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Columbus' Own Journal of Discovery 


New/y Restored and Translated by\ 




Columbus' Own Journal of Discovery 

The shipboard Journal written by 
Christopher Columbus has long; 
been lost, though parts of it 
survive through a copy made in 
the early sixteenth century by 
Bartolome de las Casas. It is Las Cases" 
version alone which has, until now, been 
accepted as the Journal. 

In an extraordinary piece of scholar- 
ship, John Cummins has restored Colum- 
bus* Journal in a much fuller version than 
any yet known. Las Casas* version is a 
hodge-podge of syntax and style, omitting 
some passages and embellishing others. 
Dr. Cummins has gone back to other 
sources and translated them anew in- 
cluding Columbus' son Fernando* s biog- 
raphy of his father, records of legal battles 
over the spoils, and Columbus* own 

library to reveal a closer understanding 

than ever before of the voyage that 
changed the shape of the world. 

Cummins 9 introduction gives a vivid 
picture of the fifteenth-century world 
which gave birth to Columbus and his 
voyage. He settles once and for all the 
contentious question of Columbus* 
nationality; he argues that the idea of a 
**flat earth" was no longer given much 
credence in Columbus 9 time; he explores 
Columbus' intricate self-deception, his 
undying conviction that despite all ap- 
pearances to the contrary he was in the 
Orient, the land of the Great Khan. 

In rendering Columbus' Journal into 
English, John Cummins has produced *~ 

(continued 0*1 bach 

The Voyage of 
Christopher Columbus 

By the same author 

The Spanish Traditional Lyric 

The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting 

as editor 

Juan de Mena, Laberinto de Fortuna 

T. E. May, Wit of the Golden Age 

(with P. Bacarisse and I. R. Macdonald) 

Pero Lopez de Ayala, Libro de la caqa de las aves 

The Voyage of 



Columbus' Own ]ournal of Discovery 
Newly Restored and Translated 

John Cummins 

St. Martin's Press 
New York 

To Smn, Hmish and Ewen 


John Cummins. All rights reserved, Printed in the United States of America, No part of this book 
may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case 
of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St, Martin's 
Press, 175 fifth Avenue, New York, N,Y. 10010, 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Columbus, Christopher, 
[Dim English] 

The voyage of Christopher Columbus : Columbus' own journal of 
discovery / newly restored and translated by John Cummins. 

p, cm. 

Translation of: Diario. 
"A Thomas Dunne book," 
ISBN 0-3124)7880-3 

1, Columbus, Christopher Diaries. 2, America Discovery and 
exploration Spanish. 3, Explorers America Diaries, 
4, Explorers Spain Diaries. I. Cummins, John G. II. Title, 
E118.C725 1992 

970,01'5 / 092-dc20 92-4012 


First published in Great Britain by George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 

First U.S. Edition: May 1992 
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 


Acknowledgements vii 
Maps viii 

1 1492: An End and a beginning i 

2 The Orient and the Ocean Sea 7 

3 Cristoforo Colombo 19 
4 Planning and Persuasion 3 1 

5 Vessels Well Suited 46 

6 Shipboard Life and Sailing 59 

7 Restoring and Translating the Journal 67 

The Journal 79 
Appendix I The Voyage Seen Through Other Eyes: 

the Pleitos de Colon 193 
Appendix II The Payroll of the Voyage 204 

Notes 207 

Select Bibliography 230 

Sources of Illustrations and Figures 233 

Index 235 


My thanks are due to my colleagues in the University of Aberdeen, 
Jim Forsyth (Russian), Bob Ralph (Zoology), Jeffrey Stone 
(Geography) and Chris Wilcock (Plant Science), for assistance with 
specific points and for the loan or gift of textual material. I have 
received invaluable help from the staff of the Aberdeen University 
Library, especially from the Photographic Service and from Colin 
McLaren and Myrtle Anderson-Smith of the Special Collections 

The help of Jorge Urrutia in Seville, Guillermina Cenoz and 
Fernando Huerta in Barcelona and Annamaria Venturi in Genoa eased 
the progress of my research considerably. I am also grateful to my 
publishers, and particularly to Allegra Huston and Natalina Bertoli 
for their supportive interest and suggestions for textual improve- 

Above all, as ever, I thank Liz Weir, the best of secretaries and a 
patient teacher of the electronically bemused. 


The Voyage of 
Christopher Columbus 

1492: Aw End and 
a Beginning 

From our viewpoint in the world we have inherited, a world shrunken 
by technological advance and robbed of its mystery by scientific 
enquiry, we see 1492 as the date of a great beginning; an expansion of 
man's acquaintance with his planetary environment on a scale so great 
that it was not exceeded until he escaped the gravitational pull of the 
earth. Whatever Columbus thought he had discovered on 12 October 
(and only later voyages revealed the startling presence of a continent), 
the reorientation of European eyes westward which followed his 
return in the following spring was the prelude to a substantial 
proportion of the now mythicized elements which form our historical 
culture. The Conquistadors followed, and returned with tales of El 
Dorado. The riches which they brought home funded Spanish power 
in Europe, turned mediaeval reivers into hidalgos and paid for the art of 
Velazquez, Rubens and Titian, the craft of goldsmith, gunmaker and 
embroiderer, the overdressed galleons of the Armada and the literary 
glories of the Golden Age. Other, later myths came to enrich our 
vision of a continent of wonders, dangers and inexhaustible wealth: 
the Spanish Main; the slave trade; the great rivers; Cape Horn; 

Spanish port, 

fever port, 

port of Holy Peter. 

The terrain of the Americas and the people who settled there, too, 
are part of our traditional culture. The Rockies and the Andes; the 
pampas and the Great Plains; jungle and palm tree; gaucho, cowboy, 
gold-miner and cotton-picker. Columbus's halting conversations 
with the Caribbean Indians began a redistribution of Europe's 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

languages which has taken French to Quebec and Louisiana, Gaelic to 
Cape Breton, German to Pennsylvania, Welsh to Patagonia, Italian to 
Buenos Aires and New York, and Portuguese to Brazil. Above all, 
Spanish: over 200 million speakers now west of the Atlantic, the 
successors to the brave and hopeful thirty-nine who used the timbers 
of the Santa Maria, wrecked on Christmas Day, to build the first, 
shortlived foothold, the 'fortress and town' of Navidad. 

In retrospect, then, a beginning. Spaniards celebrating that 
Christmas in Spain, however, even if they had seen Columbus's three 
little ships drop down the Saltes river with the tide in the blaze of 
August and knew their mission, would give thanks for the year as the 
time of a great, triumphal ending. On 2 January 1492, the King of the 
Islamic state of Granada had emerged from the gate of his capital, 
kissed the hands of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of 
Aragon, and thereby conceded that Muslim power in the Iberian 
peninsula was over. It was the end of the Spanish Middle Ages. 

The taking of Granada was the finish of a campaign to reincorporate 
the whole of Iberia into Christendom, an aim pursued intermittently 
for almost 800 years. It is easy to imagine the euphoria of the King and 
Queen in the final weeks of the campaign as they realized that the 
legendary efforts of their predecessors, the kings and counts of 
Castile, Leon, Asturias, Galicia, Aragon, Navarre and Catalonia, 
were about to be crowned by their own success. Their marriage had 
bridged the one surviving gap between the long separated kingdoms 
of northern Spain; they were now about to achieve the final stage of the 
Reconquista. This intermittent southward thrust of crusading 
Christendom had survived alliances cemented and dissolved; Hispanic 
empires painfully gathered by war, diplomatic intrigue and loveless 
marriages, and dispersed by the erratic wills of dotards. Periods of half 
admiring coexistence with Islam had been repeatedly punctuated by 
conflict - sometimes by mere border forays in which a couple of mills 
were burned and a few cattle crossed the frontier; sometimes by major 
battles in which only the intervention of St James the Apostle and his 
host of white-armoured angels had enabled the Christians to hold the 
field and set up new southern ramparts of the Faith. The anti-Islamic 
impetus of these gradually expanding kingdoms had been made 
sporadic by the resurgent fervour of the enemy, sometimes bolstered 
from Africa, and by squabbles with Christian neighbours who were 
often royal siblings. Now the long struggle was over. 

In the royal campaign headquarters at Santa Fe, near Granada, only 
a few days before the formal surrender of the city, Columbus received 
permission from the Queen to proceed with his project to seek a 
western route to the orient. The new beginning is tied so neatly to the 
ending, the sequence is so felicitous, that one resists making the point 


for fear of accusations of being facile. Those were, no doubt, good 
days in which to seek a favour from the euphoric monarchs, but 
Columbus's petitioning and lobbying for royal support of his scheme 
had been going on for years. In the busy days of the Granada campaign 
his plan was probably not in the forefront of the minds of the King and 

This does not mean that they were unaware of the benefits which 
would arise from its success. If it worked, well and good. The costs 
emerged as relatively slight in the weeks which followed: three 
vessels, two of them small and in any case due to the Crown in 
payment of a civic debt, the other moderately sized; fewer than a 
hundred men; stores and trinkets. It was a small risk for a 
successful nation in comparison with the potential gains. Mediaeval 
Spain was at the furthest extremity of the trade routes from the orient, 
cut off from the sources of eastern luxury goods not only, like the rest 
of Europe, by frequently hostile populations of infidels, but also by 
better placed Mediterranean rivals, Venice and Genoa in particular. 

Lately the ships of the King of Portugal had opened up a new source 
of gold and spices southward along the coast of Africa, and by 
rounding the Cape of Good Hope had revealed a valid sea route to the 
east, untrammelled by desert, brigand or tax gatherer. The vision of a 
direct (and, according to Columbus, short) western route from 
Andalusia to the Spice Islands and the gold-roofed cities described in 
mediaeval travel literature could not fail to appeal, and he would have 
had his authorization earlier but for the influence of conservative royal 
counsellors and Isabella's Catholic conscience about treaty obligations 
towards Portugal. 1 

The Queen's religious zeal, however, was a factor generally 
favouring Columbus. He was to seek a route to lands which might be 
expected not only to consolidate the strength of a newly united Spain 
with rich and cheaply transported imports, but also to provide a field 
for a lately accelerating and now thriving enterprise, the incorpor- 
ation into Christendom of hundreds of thousands of waiting souls. 
Columbus himself was always aware of this aspect of the voyage, and 
always eager to stress it; indeed, in later life his conviction became a 
virtual mania. 2 After leaving behind the intrigue of the soft-fleshed 
men of the Spanish Court, and finding himself faced once again with 
the less ambiguous demands of course-finding and weather, he reveals 
in the Prologue to the Journal and in the more workaday later entries a 
breadth of historical perspective that enables him to link the aims of his 
voyage with the recent triumph of Spanish Christendom. The 
acquisition of gold and spices and the conferring of salvation: these 
two threads emerge repeatedly in the day-to-day descriptions of 
seafarer's task and island landscape, neither absent for long. 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Hypocrisy, the cynical might say; and Bartolome de las Casas, the 
priest through whose interest and diligence our closest approximation 
to Columbus's original Journal survives, is always ready to point out 
the contradictions inherent in the dual motivation. 3 But the strength 
of faith underlying the voyage is unquestionable. Columbus and his 
men say the Salve Regina together as the last act of their day; in their 
references to time they use the hours of the Church services: terce, 
vespers and compline; 4 wearied and desperate in the storm, they 
remember the seaman's favoured shrines in Andalusia and two of the 
great centres of mediaeval Marian pilgrimage, Our Lady of 
Guadalupe and the Virgin of Loretto; after their safe deliverance, their 
first act is to walk through the February wind to the nearest church to 
give thanks to the Virgin, clothed only in their shirts (whether their 
faith was shaken by the immediate result, seizure by the Portuguese, 
we can only surmise). In conspicuous sites in the Indies Columbus sets 
up crosses, a physical indication that the islands are now possessed not 
only politically but spiritually. Again one thinks back to the early days 
of the Reconquest: when a Christian nobleman came down from the 
Cantabrian mountains to repossess an area of the empty lands left by 
the Moors as a buffer zone in the upper valleys of the Ebro or the 
Duero, he naturally established a military outpost, a castellum, 5 but 
normally a monastery too, often giving the richer land near the river 
to the monks. This hand-in-hand progress of the secular and the 
religious was carried southward, and then into the new lands across 
the Atlantic. 

Columbus had no space aboard for priests, but the priests soon 
followed, and it is clear that in the early days of empire the indigenous 
populations of the Americas were looked on by Spaniards not versed 
in theology as something akin to the Moors. This view was probably 
accentuated as soon as the Conquistadors met, on the one hand, 
serious opposition, and, on the other, the astonishing creations of the 
builders and craftsmen of the mainland. For the real veterans among 
them, men hardened in their youth by the long campaigns of the 
Moorish wars, those marches through the hostile lands of Mexico and 
Peru, the alien complexions, the curious tongues, the pagan temples 
and richly worked artefacts, the constant stress on their role as the 
vanguard of God, must have seemed very much an extension of the 
Christian Reconquest of Spain. 6 

There is something of this even in the work of Las Casas, a great and 
scholarly defender of both the reputation of Columbus and the rights 
of the Indians. His admiration for the Admiral gives way to anger 
when he describes Columbus's arrogant assumption that the natives 
can be gathered and removed to Spain as examples of natural fauna, 
but the distinguishing factor of religion is fundamental to Las Casas 


too: whenever he has to allude to a group of Columbus's men in 
relation to the Indians, he calls them not Spaniards, but cristianos, 

A man's signature tells us much about how he sees himself. In later 
life, even on family letters, Columbus conveyed his own view of his 
historical importance by analyzing his own Christian name: 

. S . 

S . A . S 

X. M. Y 


The first three lines of this cypher are enigmatic, 7 but the meaning of 
the last is obvious. It is an analysis of the Latinized form of 
Christopher, split to show the meaning 'the bearer of Christ' (Xpo is 
the normal scribal abbreviation for Cristo). Columbus, aware of the 
legend of the saint who carried Christ across the river, expresses in his 
signature a high concept of his own significance as the man who bore 
Christ and his faith across an ocean. 

His contemporaries were aware of this saintly symbolism. One of 
the finest maps of the world produced in the period immediately 
following the discovery of the Indies is attributed to Juan de la Cosa. 
At the western extremity of his map, just to the left of the newly 
discovered islands, he placed a picture of St Christopher carrying the 
infant Christ across the river. The thought of alluding to Columbus in 
this way may have come to him independently, but whether or not he 
was the Juan de la Cosa who sailed as master of the Santa Maria he 
probably had in mind Columbus's own association of his name with 
the legend of the saint. 8 The same link is the basis of murals in early 
colonial churches, 9 and probably of the painting in the Lazaro 
Galdiano museum which, it is claimed, shows Columbus kneeling 
before the Virgin. Partly clad in armour (possibly the armour of God 
of St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, but more probably symbolizing his 
elevation to the nobility), Columbus prays to the Virgin as he and his 
crew prayed to her to save their ship from foundering off the Azores. 
At his back, with a sponsoring hand on the explorer's shoulder, stands 
the great bearded presence of St Christopher. 

Columbus's son Fernando, a man of literary interests who wrote a 
posthumous biography of his father, explains the link with the saint 
rather laboriously, and also draws symbolism from the family 
surname, which means *dove' in Latin: 

He was truly Columbus or 'dove', for he bore the grace of the Holy Spirit to that 
New World, revealing who was God's beloved Son to those who did not know 
Him, as did the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove when St John baptised Christ; 
and because he bore the olive branch and oil of baptism over the 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

waters of the ocean, like the dove of Noah's ark, to show that those people 
who had been confined in the ark of darkness and confusion were to enjoy 
peace and be incorporated into the Church. 10 

In the Journal Columbus never reflects on the implications of the fact 
that some of the essential aspects of the true Christian were more in 
evidence in the society he had found than in the one he had left behind. 
He mentions with astonishment the simplicity and spontaneous 
generosity of the Indians; their neglect of wealth which enables them 
to value a lump of gold at no more than a piece of broken pot, a glass 
bead or a sparrowhawk bell. He never goes on to wonder how these 
virtues have been achieved without baptism or the guidance of priests, 
and whether they will survive contact with rapacious men whose 
values are different. 

Let us not be too hard on him for this complacency in his European 
values. In our own time there are devout souls who, wishing to benefit 
rather than exploit the naive inhabitants of the Latin American 
forests, nevertheless believe that God will look askance on any man 
not wearing trousers. Five hundred years after Columbus his evan- 
gelistic aim is unfulfilled, and the inculcation of the civilizing values of 
Christendom continues to be a more complicated process than he and 
his age, in their own naivety, anticipated. 

The Orient and the 
Ocean Sea 

The extent of European knowledge and speculation regarding world 
geography at the time of Columbus's departure may be broadly 
appreciated by examining the globe of Martin Behaim, produced in 
1492. Generally, and unsurprisingly, the accuracy of the delineation 
varies inversely with the distance from central Europe. Behaim states 
explicitly in a legend on the globe that he is updating Ptolemy, the 
main influence on late mediaeval ideas of the shape of the world. The 
principal element he drew from Ptolemy was that the world is, 
indeed, a globe, and in this respect Behaim was doing nothing 
startling in the context of his times. The idea, fostered by Hollywood, 
that opposition to Columbus was based on a generally held vision of a 
flat earth with an edge over which one could fall into a void is 
nonsense. Mediaeval astronomy, often erroneous and not yet clearly 
separated from astrology, was nevertheless a developed science, and 
the Ptolemaic concept of the earth as a sphere was widely familiar to 
both churchmen and laymen; indeed the churches were often the 
repositories of visual confirmation of it for the worshipping public. In 
San Gimignano in Tuscany, for instance, a typical fresco framed by an 
arch in the church shows the earth as a sphere with the other heavenly 
bodies rotating in crystalline layers around it. 

Behaim claims to be expanding Ptolemy with details from 
thirteenth- and fourteenth-century travel books and with information 
recently gathered by Portuguese explorations in which he took part 

You must know that this depiction represents the whole extent of the earth in 
both latitude and longitude, measured geometrically. It is based partly on 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Ptolemy's book entitled Cosmographia Ptolomei, and for the rest on the 
accounts of the knight Marco Polo, who travelled from Venice to the orient 
in 1250, and also in accordance with the description given in 1322 by that 
respectable scholar and knight John Maundevile in a book on the eastern 
lands unknown to Ptolemy, with all their islands, which are the source of 
spices and precious stones. But the illustrious Dom Joao, King of Portugal, 
sent his ships to the south in 1485 to explore all the rest of the world, and I, the 
author of this globe, was on that voyage of discovery. 1 

It has been suggested 2 that Behaim's globe may have been produced 
under Portuguese royal influence to publicize Portugal's discoveries 
and consolidate her claims to empire, and that similarities between it 
and the world map of Henricus Martellus Germanus may indicate that 
the latter was produced for the same purpose and was then used as a 
partial basis for the globe. The Martellus map, too, amalgamates 
Ptolemy with an imaginative representation of the orient based on 
mediaeval travel writings and with material based on the Portuguese 
discoveries in west and south Africa. Like the globe, it must be post 
1488, for it refers to the voyage of Bartholomew Dias. 

In the Journal entries for 24 October and 13 November Columbus 
mentions spheres and mapamundos which he has seen, and if the 
Henricus Martellus map was widely reproduced it could possibly be 
one of the maps to which he is referring. There is dissent about 
whether copies of the Henricus Martellus map were hand-drawn or 
printed for general sale, 3 but as commercial chartmakers for an 
international market Columbus and his brother Bartholomew would 
certainly have had their ears to the ground for information on any such 
work. In view of Martin Behaim's known involvement with Portugal 
in the years immediately preceding the voyage, it is possible that the 
Behaim globe was one of the spheres examined by Columbus. Be that 
as it may, the Henricus Martellus map and the Behaim globe represent 
the current thinking of alert European cartographers at the time when 
Columbus was planning his voyage. 

Various elements of these two representations are relevant to 
Columbus's project. The orient is shown as an area of a myriad 
islands, stated by Behaim to be the source of precious stones and 
spices. The globe shows the fabled Great Khan, the Mongol emperor 
who figures so prominently in Columbus's expectations. It also 
represents, very crudely, the overland trade routes to the east, but 
both the map and the globe reflect the crucial discovery by the 
Portuguese that Africa had a southern tip which could be rounded. 
Japan is prominent. 

There is abundant evidence that reaching -the orient was a difficult 
business, but this should not mislead us into thinking that all 
mediaeval Europeans saw it merely as a place of distant legend. The 


same dual incentives which lay behind Columbia's project, commer- 
cial exploitation and missionary zeal, had led to a surprisingly 
extensive overland penetration by Europeans in the preceding 
centuries. Marco Polo's journeys furnished the information on which 
late mediaeval ideas of the east, including those of Columbus, were 
largely based: golden pagodas; teeming cities; wharves and markets 
thronged with merchants; cargoes of gold, spices, jewels; the palaces 
and hunting parties of the Great Khan Kublai. It was an account 
translated and copied over and over by mediaeval scholars: 

Inside these walls, which make up the boundary of four miles, stands the 
palace of the Great Khan, the largest that has ever yet been known . . . The 
paved foundation or platform on which it stands is raised ten spans above 
ground level, and a wall of marble, two paces wide, is built on all sides . . . 
The walls of the great halls and the apartments are decorated with carved and 
gilded dragons, figures of warriors, of birds and of beasts, with representa- 
tions of battles. The inside of the roof is contrived in such a way that one can 
see nothing but gilding and painting . . . The outside of the roof is adorned 
with a variety of colours, red, green, azure and violet ... At the back of the 
palace there are large buildings containing several apartments holding the 
private property of the monarch, his treasure in gold and silver bullion, 
precious stones, and also his vessels of gold and silver plate. 

. . . Zipangu is an island in the eastern ocean, situated at the distance of 
about 1,500 miles from the mainland ... its inhabitants are handsome, fair- 
skinned, and civilized in their manners . . . They have gold in the greatest 
abundance, their supplies being inexhaustible, but as the king does not allow 
it to be exported, few merchants visit the country . . . This is the reason for 
the extraordinary richness of the sovereign's palace, according to what we 
have been told by those who have access to the place. The whole roof is 
covered with a plating of gold, just as we cover houses, or more properly 
churches, with lead. The ceilings of the halls are of the same precious metal; 
many of the rooms have small tables of pure gold, of considerable thickness; 
and the windows also have golden ornaments. So huge indeed, are the riches 
of the palace, that it is impossible to give a true idea of them. In this island 
there are also pearls in large quantities, of a red colour, round in shape, and 
very large, equal in value to, or even exceeding that of the white pearls. 

The sea in which the island of Zipangu is situated is called the sea of Chin, 
and so large is this eastern sea that ... it contains no fewer than 7.44 islands, 
mostly inhabited. It is said that of the trees which grow in them, every single 
one gives off a fragrant smell. They produce many spices and drugs, 
particularly lignum aloes and pepper, in large quantities, both white and 
black. It is impossible to estimate the value of the gold and other articles 
found on the island. 4 

Graphic artists reinforced this literary vision. The Livre des merveilles is 
one of many testimonies to the influence of Marco Polo's journeys. It 
is liberally illustrated, and while the European miniaturist has little 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

idea of the ethnic or architectural features of the far east (the Great 
Khan is made to look very much like Charlemagne or King Arthur; 
the fortresses could equally represent Tintagel or Carcassonne), his 
choice of subject matter is influenced not only by the need to depict the 
events of the narrative but also by the opportunity to excite wonder at 
the marvels to which the title alludes. The illuminations gild a vision 
already golden. 

The richness and detail of The Travels of Marco Polo ensured its 
longlasting popularity, and its descriptions dominated the naive 
European view of the orient up to and beyond the time of Columbus. 
(Its only rival is the Travels of Sir John Maundevile, whose assistance 
is acknowledged by Martin Behaim alongside that of Polo. 
Maundevile's is an inferior work, a sensationalist ragbag.) 

The Travels of Marco Polo describes a conversation on religion with 
the Great Khan in which the question of Christian baptism arose. 
While not overenthusiastic about the proposal, the Khan evidently 
believed in spreading his bets in matters of faith. He saw nothing 
basically wrong with Christianity; his reluctance to embrace it 
exclusively was due to its failure hitherto to provide convincing local 
effects of the power of God. 

Tor what reason', he said, 'should I become a Christian? You yourselves 
must have noticed that the Christians of these countries are ignorant, 
inefficient people, who do not possess the ability to perform anything 
miraculous; whereas you see that the idolators can do whatever they like. 
They have the power of controlling bad weather . . . You have witnessed 
that their idols have the power of speech . . . If I were to become a convert to 
Christianity and profess myself a Christian, the nobles of my Court . . . 
would ask me what sufficient motives had caused me to receive baptism and 
to embrace Christianity. 'What extraordinary powers,' they would say, 
'what miracles have been displayed by its ministers?' 5 

The Khan then proposed a formal trial of strength between the Pope's 
representatives and the local infidel priests: 

'But please return to your Pontiff, and ask him, in my name, to send here a 
hundred persons well skilled in your faith, who when put face to face with the 
idolators shall have power to coerce them, showing that they themselves 
have the same art, but refrain from exercising it because it is derived from 
the agency of evil spirits, and shall compel them to give up practices of such a 
nature in their presence. When I witness this, I shall place them and their 
religion under an interdict, and shall allow myself to be baptised.' 

... It must be evident from this account that if the Pope had sent out 
persons properly qualified to preach the gospel, the Great Khan would have 
embraced Christianity, to which, it is certainly known, he was strongly 
inclined. 6 



The Khan's request to the Pope, as described by Marco Polo, probably 
underlies Columbus's assertion in the Prologue to the Journal that 
emissaries had come to Rome from the far east to appeal for 
instruction in Christianity. Columbus says that the appeal had met 
with no response, and gives the impression of vast areas totally 
untouched by Christian influence or, indeed, by European feet. This is 
a considerable misrepresentation, though probably largely an unwit- 
ting one, which suited his own proposals. The trial of strength 
proposed by the Great Khan had developed from the late thirteenth 
century onwards, not in the stage-managed form of conquest by 
miracle suggested in the Marco Polo account, but as a missionary 
campaign which went hand in hand with commercial exploration. 

European acquaintanceship with the far east, therefore, was not 
limited to the information available in the famous travel books. In the 
years between Polo's journeys and Columbus's voyage surprisingly 
large numbers of Europeans travelled to the east, and many lingered 
there for evangelical or commercial purposes. A high proportion of 
these were Italians, and a high proportion of the Italians, significantly 
in this context, were from Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus. 7 Even 
these, however, were far from being the first Christians in China: a 
branch of the Church known as the Nestorians, after the fifth-century 
founder Nestorius, had a strong missionary spirit and by the first 
quarter of the eighth century had established bishoprics in China. 
After reaching a low ebb in the tenth century the Nestorians revived in 
the thirteenth and fourteenth, and are mentioned as an established 
feature of Chinese society by Catholic missionaries in their letters to 
Europe. 8 

There were also formal contacts between oriental ambassadors and 
Rome, and Italian churchmen went bravely to the far east. In April 
1278 a group of Minorite friars, Gerald of Prato, Anthony of Parma, 
John of St Agatha, Andrew of Florence and Matthew of Arezzo, were 
sent off to Cathay by Pope Nicholas in on an embassy to 'the Great 
Cham, the illustrious Emperor of all the Tartars'. There is no evidence 
of their arrival. 9 In April 1287 Rabban Sauma, an emissary of Khan 
Argun, was in Rome. Guided by a Genoese called Buscarelli he then 
visited Genoa, Paris (where he met Philippe Le Bel) and Bordeaux 
(where he met Edward i). He was received into the Catholic Church 
by Pope Nicholas iv in 1288. 

In the same year a Franciscan called John of Montecorvino set off 
from Venice with letters of commendation from Nicholas i v to the 
King and Queen of Armenia, Khan Argun, the Great Khan Kublai and 
his rival, Kaidu of Turkestan. After reaching Tabriz, where he met 
Buscarelli and a man from Tuscany, Montecorvino decided against 
continuing along the overland route followed by Polo, and took 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

instead a route involving two sea passages: one from Ormuz to the 
Malabar coast, and a second from Malabar to China. With him went 
two other Italians: a Dominican called Nicholas of Pistoia and a 
merchant, Peter of Lucalongo. Nicholas died in India, but Peter the 
merchant reached China with the friar. They were probably the first 
westerners to arrive in China by sea; harbingers of the many future 
voyagers in ajoint endeavour in which, despite war, piracy and storm, 
the merchants generally found progress easier than the missionaries, 
but kept quieter about it. The two travellers exemplify the collabora- 
tive nature of the early exploration. When the friar John of 
Montecorvino began building his fine new monastery 'before the gate 
of the Lord Cham' in 1304,. he did so on ground bought for the 
purpose by the merchant Peter of Lucalongo. 10 

This was part of an energetic Christian missionary campaign. In 
1305 the Pope named Montecorvino Archbishop of Pekin, with 
instructions to build a cathedral using funds given by a rich Armenian 
woman and to organize the structure of the Church in China. Other 
missions followed frequently: Andrew of Perugia and six companions 
were sent as suffragan bishops in 1307; Peter of Florence and Jerome of 
Catalonia went out in 1311; Jourdain de Severac in 1321; Odoric of 
Pordenone spent several years in Pekin; John of Marignolli left 
Avignon in 1338 and remained in the east for fifteen years. Their 
descriptions reinforce those of Marco Polo: Odoric describes Canton 
as being three times as big as Venice, with more ships than the whole 
of Italy. In Tsiun-Cheu, which was 'twice the size of Rome', he and 
Jourdain de Severac saw a Franciscan monastery and just beside it a 
monastery with 3,000 bonzes worshipping 11,000 idols. 

A letter from Montecorvino gives a vivid account of his early 
activities, and of the difficulties of the journey: 

I have built a church in the city of Cambalec, in which the king has his chief 
residence ... I have baptised there, as well as I can estimate, up to this time 
some 6,000 persons . . . Also I have gradually bought 150 boys, the children 
of pagan parents, and of ages varying from seven to eleven, who have never 
learned any religion. These boys I have baptised, and I have taught them 
Greek and Latin after our manner ... As for the road hither I may tell you 
that the way through the land of the Goths, subject to the Emperor of the 
northern Tartars, is the shortest and safest; and by it the friars might come, 
along with the letter carriers, in five or six months. The other route again is 
very long and dangerous, involving two sea voyages; the first of which is 
about as long as that from Acre to Provence, while the second is as long as 
from Acre to England. And it is possible that it might take more than two 
years to accomplish the journey that way. But on the other hand, the first- 
mentioned route has not been open for a considerable time, on account of 
wars that have been going on. It is twelve years since I have had any news of 


the Papal Court, or of our Order, or of the state of affairs generally in the 


John of Montecorvino died around 1328, not only the first but also, 
apparently, the last effective Archbishop of Pekin. In 1333 a Friar 
Nicholas, professor of Divinity in Paris, was appointed to succeed 
him. He set off with twenty friars and six laymen; they were well 
received in Almalik, but there is no record of their having reached 

Around 1330 the relations between the Great Khan and the Catholic 
missionaries appear to have been cordial. The Liv re de Vestal du grant 
Kaan, 12 said to be by the Archbishop of Soltania, John of Cora, gives a 
glowing account of the glittering pomp of the Khan's Empire and 
ends with a description of his generous support of the European 

The Grand Caan supporteth the Christians . . . and causes provision to be 
made for all their necessities; for he hath very great devotion towards them, 
and sheweth them great affection. And when they require or ask anything 
from him, in order to furnish their churches, their crosses or their sanctuaries 
in honour of Jesus Christ, he doth most willingly bestow it ... And most 
willingly doth he suffer and encourage the friars to preach the Faith of God in 
the churches of the pagans . . , 13 

There are many references to the presence of men from Genoa in the 
east in the early fourteenth century. In 1321 Jourdain de Severac had 
the help of a Genoese to gather the relics of four martyrs in India; 
Andrew of Perugia, Bishop of Zaitun, mentions the influential 
position of the Genoese in the city in 1326; Andalo di Savignone, sent 
by the Great Khan as ambassador to Europe in 1338, was Genoese; 
in 1340 a Genoese merchant was martyred in Almalik. There are 
references to a Genoese presence in Turkestan, China, the Malabar 

The hardships of the journey to the east and the difficulties of 
communicating in strange tongues led to the composition of guides 
and commercial handbooks, and here too the Genoese participation is 
evident. The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice has a copy of a trilingual 
dictionary in Latin, Persian and Cumanian composed by a Genoese in 
1303 for the use of merchants. There was obviously some naivety of 
attitude towards distant tongues; missionary friars preached in Latin 
or Italian to uncomprehending Saracens on route. 

A striking impression of how appealing the idea of a short sea 
journey to the orient must have seemed to anyone in western Europe, 
and especially in Spain, emerges from a commercial handbook written 
by another fourteenth-century Italian, Francesco Balducci Pegolotti. 14 
He was a Florentine, but clearly much of his information comes from a 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Genoese source, for he uses Genoese weights and measures in 
correlating oriental and western practices. He is very informative on 
the length and nature of the overland journey, recommending the 
following stages and modes of transport: 

Tana (Azor on the Black Sea) to Astrakhan: 

by ox-cart 24 days 

by horse-carriage 12 days 

Astrakhan to Sarai: by boat on the Volga i day 

Sarai to Saraichik: by land or boat 8 days 

Saraichik to Urgandi on the Oxus: by camel 20 days 15 

Urgandi to Otrar: by camel 34 days 

Otrar to Almalik on the Hi river: by donkey 45 days 

Almalik to Kanchau: by donkey 60 days 
Kanchau to Quinsay (Hang-chau-fu): by horse and river 45 days 

Quinsay to Cambalec (Pekin): method not given 30 days 

Pegolotti is not consistently reassuring about the safety of the journey: 

The road you travel from Tana to Cathay is perfectly safe, whether by day or 
by night, according to what merchants say who have used it ... When the 
lord of the country dies, and before the new lord who is to have the lordship is 
proclaimed . . . there have sometimes been irregularities practised on the 
Franks, and other foreigners . . . You may reckon also that from Tana to 
Sarai the road is less safe than on any other part of the journey; and yet even 
when this part of the road is at its worst, if you are some sixty men in the 
company you will go as safely as if you were in your own house. 16 

A less equivocal description of the overland route is given by Pascal of 
Vittoria, a Franciscan who had much to suffer on his journey in 1338. 
First he had to reach Tana, the same starting point specified by 
Pegolotti. Writing to his brother friars in Vittoria from Almalik (still 
over a hundred days short of Cambalec), he describes how he and Friar 
Gonsalvo Trastorna went first to Avignon and Assisi: 

And after that we embarked at Venice on board a certain carrack, and sailed 
down the Adriatic sea. We next sailed through the sea of Pontus, leaving 
Sclavonia to the left and Turkey to the right, and landed in Greece at Galata 
near Constantinople, where we found the father Vicar of Cathay in the 
Vicariat of the East. Then, embarking on another vessel, we sailed across the 
Black Sea, whose depth is unfathomable, to Gazaria in the Vicariat of the 
North, and in the Empire of the Tartars. Then traversing another sea which 
has no bottom, we landed at Tana. 

His journey then followed the stages recommended by Pegolotti, 
though the timing varied and he certainly had his troubles. It must be 
said that he brought much of his distress on himself by his determined 
preaching, and that a merchant would have travelled more 
discreetly. 17 



Still, allowing for negotiating time, setbacks and weather, it was 
probably necessary to set aside the best part of a couple of years for a 
trading journey to China and back. From Spain, remember, one had 
to travel right across Europe or sail the length of the Mediterranean 
and the Black Sea before starting on Pegolotti's itinerary. 18 

With the fall of the Mongol dynasty, the cordial relations 
with the far east disappeared, and details of contacts in the fifteenth 
century are hard to come by. A list of the Catholic Archbishops of 
Cambalec includes men who occupied the see nominally until the 
1480$, but says that some of these, including all the fifteenth-century 
incumbents, did not take up residence there. 19 The Nestorian Church 
lingered on in a decadent state, Metropolitans of China being 
appointed until 1490. In the case of John, nominated Metropolitan in 
that year, the charge appears to have been united with that of India, 
and the responsibility for China may have shrunk to a purely nominal 
one. 20 When Jesuit missionaries went to China in the sixteenth 
century they found only residual evidence of the previous Christian 
presence, whether Catholic or Nestorian. 

Thus the reports about China which reached Europe in the fifteenth 
century were few and far between, and were based not on residential 
experience but on chance contacts with orientals made in the middle 
east or central Asia. An example is Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, a 
Spaniard who went on an embassy to Samarkand in 1403. Timur Beg, 
ruler in Samarkand at the time, rearranged the seating at dinner to 
make the Spaniard sit above the Cathayan ambassador, since 'those 
who came from the King of Spain, his son and friend, were not to sit 
below the envoy of a thief and a scoundrel who was Timur's 
enemy'. 21 Clavijo gives interesting details about contemporary trade. 
The best of the merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: 
silk and satin; musk and the medicinal rhubarb which Columbus 
subsequently thought he had found in the Caribbean; pearls, 
diamonds and rubies. Cambalu (presumably the same place as 
Cambalec, i.e., Pekin) was six months* journey from Samarkand, 
including two months crossing the Steppes. In the year of Clavijo's 
visit 800 camels came from Cambalu laden with goods for 
Samarkand. He also says, remembering or picking up who knows 
what oral legend, that the Emperor of Cathay used to be a pagan but 
had been converted to Christianity. 

In the fifteenth century, indeed, there are indications of a break- 
down of European practical awareness of the east so complete that 
when relations were resumed with early Portuguese trading visits and 
the establishment of Jesuit missions in the sixteenth century it was by 
no means generally accepted that this new land of China was the same 
as the Cathay of the mediaeval accounts. In the account of the journey 


1 he Yoyage oj ^nnstopner 

made in 1603 by Benedict Goes, a Portuguese Jesuit, with the specific 
aim of establishing whether the two were one and the same, Cathay is 
described as 'that famous Empire . . . the name of which was once 
familiar to Europe through the story of Marco Polo the Venetian, but 
had in the lapse of ages so fallen out of remembrance that people 
scarcely believed in the existence of such a country'. 22 

Late in the fifteenth century, therefore, Columbus could be excused 
for his statement about the unChristianized state of the east, which 
within the perimeters of his own lifetime was true enough. How 
much he knew about the great Genoese mercantile tradition which 
had assisted the Church in its oriental flowering in 1300-50 is 
impossible to assess - a few oral memories, perhaps, blurred and 
embroidered in the family traditions of neighbours. On the nature and 
sources of his personal vision of the east, however, we have reliable 
information in his own hand, as we shall see. 

The orient, then, had begun to be explored, evangelized and even 
exploited two centuries before Columbus set sail westward, and its 
geography and wealth were reasonably well documented, though 
relations had become distant in the fifteenth century. The Atlantic, in 
contrast, had been explored only relatively recently, and to a very 
limited extent. Late mediaeval cartographers up to and including 
Martin Behaim included in their maps not only the Azores, the Cape 
Verdes and the Canaries as these groups were successively explored 
and colonized, 23 but also a range of other islands whose number, size, 
names and positions were based partly on legend and partly on the 
reports of deluded contemporary mariners. 

One scholarly view was that in the far west the Atlantic was 
shrouded in an unwelcoming mist. St Isidore of Seville, the great 
seventh-century authority on virtually everything, refers to several 
island groups of antiquity including the Isles of the Blessed, the 
Gorgades and the Hesperides, but in his section De Oceano he writes 
that 'according to the philosophers there is no land beyond the Ocean, 
and the sea is bounded only by dense, cloudy air'. 24 

One of the most famous of the imagined islands was that of St 
Brendan. The main source of information on this seafaring Irish saint 
of the Dark Ages was a widely circulated work called the Navigatio 
Sancti Brandani. Originally in Latin, it was translated into various 
European vernaculars. It describes how in the sixth century the saint 
set off with a group of monks from their monastery at Clonfert, by the 
Shannon, in a sailing boat constructed with a wooden framework and 
an outer skin, like a large version of the modern cunagh of the west of 
Ireland. They took forty days' supplies and made repeated attempts to 
sail westward across an Atlantic full of storms, magical birds and sea 
monsters. This Christian odyssey took them to a series of islands, 


including a green and beautiful one in the far west. St Brendan's island 
is shown on various mediaeval maps from about 1270 onwards, 
including the globe of Martin Behaim, who placed it in the mid- 
Atlantic, just north of the Equator. It is identified by sixteenth- 
century and more recent speculation with Barbados. 25 

Another island whose location changed from map to map was 
Brazil. It lacked the religious credentials and Homeric supporting 
legend of St Brendan's island, but was often depicted as being of 
substantial size, and was commonly shown as lying to the west of 
Ireland. Other cartographers place it in the west Atlantic on the 
latitude of Brittany. Voyages were still being made from Bristol in 
search of the island of Brazil in the late fifteenth century. 26 There are 
no signs that Columbus had any particular theories on the position of 
St Brendan's island or Brazil, or even any faith in their existence. More 
relevant to his plans, because of their consistent appearance on late 
mediaeval maps in a position remarkably close to the true position of 
the West Indies, are Antilia, the island of the Seven Cities, Satanazes 
and some smaller adjacent islands. 

The name Antilia (Antillia, Anthylla, Antila) is first documented on 
a chart of 1424, and the island appears as a large rectangular presence 
on the western fringe of several late mediaeval charts. Explanations of 
the name have been varied and at times fanciful: the name of a city in 
Egypt, or a lake in northwestern Spain, or a village in Portugal; a 
deformed version of Atlantis, the legendary civilization which had 
sunk beneath the Atlantic waves. More convincing phonologically is 
the interpretation of the name as two Portuguese words, ante, 
meaning 'before 5 , 'in front of, and ilha, 'island'. For anyone wishing 
to prove that Columbus was not the first to discover America, this 
etymology is a godsend; it is said to suggest, not only that one of the 
major Caribbean islands was known to European mariners, but that it 
was given the name Ante-ilha because they knew that behind it lay 
something else, i.e., the American mainland. The presence on some 
charts of an archipelago of islands of varying size, grouped near 
Antilia, is interpreted as suggesting that there had been previous 
exploration of much of the West Indies. 

There was a strong legend in Iberia that there was an island in the far 
west occupied by Christians of Portuguese origin. This island, 
sometimes called the Island of the Seven Cities, is identified in some 
sources with Antilia. The Portuguese Crown sent expeditions in 
search of it in the fifteenth century, and Martin Behaim appears to 
have believed firmly in its existence when he produced his globe in 
1492. He labels Antilia Insula Antilia septe citade and follows the name 
with a version of the legend: 'In the year of Christ 734, when the whole 
of Spain had been conquered by the pagans from Africa, the above 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

island of Antilia, called the Island of the Seven Cities, was populated 
by an archbishop from Oporto, in Portugal, six other bishops, and 
Christian men and women who had fled from Spain by sea with their 
cattle, belongings and goods. A Spanish ship got closest to it without 
being in danger in 1414.' 

The strength of this legend is such that on the chart of 1424 specific 
place names are given to the seven cities of the island, and belief in its 
existence as a distinct entity continued well after Columbus's dis- 
coveries. In the fifteenth century the belief was bolstered by accounts 
of Portuguese or Spanish visits to the island, which was said to be rich 
in gold. Columbus certainly knew of the legend, and according to 
Fernando it influenced him considerably. 28 

The 1424 chart shows three other islands in the Antilia group: two, 
labelled Saya and Imana, are insignificant in size, but the other, 
Satanazes, is not much smaller than Antilia and has five place names on 
it. It appears on other charts with its name varyingly distorted: 
Satanagio, Saluaga, Salvatga, Salirosa, etc. Islands named Roillo and 
Tanmar, sometimes with a few additional unnamed islets, appear in 
the Antilia group on other late mediaeval charts. 

A largely undocumented but evidently lively belief in these islands 
probably received additional stimulation from the exploring zeal of 
the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. At a time of general illiteracy 
the orally transmitted reports of sightings received a credence which 
would not be accorded them today, and it is evident that Columbus 
himself took some of them seriously and thought of the islands either 
as potential stopping places for a passage to the orient or as being the 
detached easterly fringe of the continent of Asia. 


Cristoforo Colombo 

Look at the catalogue of any major research library, and you will find 
references to hundreds of books to do with Columbus. Because of the 
magnitude ofhis achievement, many of these are devoted to proving that 
he was born in this or that country, province or town. The Columbus 
pages of the British Library catalogue, for example, are strewn with 
nationalistic titles in various languages: Columbus: Where was he bom?; 
The fatherland of Columbus; Christopher Columbus was born in Pontevedra; 
America was discovered by Catalans: Joan Cabot and Christopher Columbus', 
Christopher Columbus was Corsican; Columbus, Native of Toledo; 
Christopher Columbus was a Greek, Was Christopher Columbus a Jew?; The 
Portuguese Nationality of Christopher Columbus', Columbus was Spanish; 
New Proofs ofColumbus's Catalan Origin; Marginalisation and Judaism in 
Christopher Columbus , . , Five hundred years after the great discovery, as 
the countries of Europe fumble their way towards pride in a joint 
heritage, one may perhaps hope that such manifestations of nationalism 
will cease, but meanwhile the misguided waste of ink continues: in 1989 a 
local newspaper published articles claiming that the explorer was from 
Majorca, and early in 1991 he was claimed as a Norwegian aristocrat. 
Columbus was Genoese. Contemporary historians who were 
personally acquainted with him say that he was Genoese, 1 and 
surviving documentary material links him firmly with Genoa. His son 
Fernando is a little vague about the explorer's precise birthplace, but is 
in no doubt about the fact ofhis origins in the Genoese area: 'Some, 
who wish to diminish his reputation, say he was from Nervi, or 
Cugureo, or Bugasca, which are small places on the coast near Genoa. 
Others, to increase his dignity, say he was from Savona; others that he 
was from Genoa itself.' 2 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

The most telling assertion conies from Columbus himself. In the 
document entailing his estate, made before the third voyage, he asked 
his heirs 'to work always to enhance the reputation, welfare and 
growth of the city of Genoa', and to maintain a house there so that a 
member of the Columbus family might always live there as a native, 
'for I came from there and there I was born'. He also asked his heirs to 
invest in the Bank of St George in Genoa. 3 

This document, of course, has been discounted by crackpots and 
chauvinists, but its reliability is now difficult to challenge. 4 If we still 
need convincing, we need only turn to a large volume published in 
1931 by the city of Genoa. 5 The city fathers, justifiably irritated by 
counter-claims, sponsored the publication in photographic facsimile 
of a large collection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century material, 
including notarial manuscripts alluding to various members of the 
Colombo family, of Genoa and Savona. The parties and witnesses to 
the transactions concerned include Cristoforo Colombo, his father, 
his paternal grandfather and other relatives. 

Now, one might say that Colombo is not an especially rare surname 
in northern Italy, and Cristoforo not an especially rare Christian 
name, and that finding a Christopher Columbus in a city the size of 
Genoa is only a degree more difficult than finding a little Maria in 
Ravenna, as Sancho Panza would put it. But when one finds that the 
Christopher mentioned in the Genoese documents has been in Lisbon, 
is about to depart for Lisbon, has been to Madeira to buy a cargo 
of sugar, has business dealings with Genoese merchants who are 
subsequently mentioned in the wills of Columbus the explorer and his 
son, is widely known to have been absent from his house in Savona 
and to have been living for a long time in Spain, or is alluded to by his 
first cousins as Admiral of the King of Spain, one wonders how the 
claims of the explorer's non-Genoese origin continue to find a 

The Genoese documents provide the basis for a picture of an 
enterprising, well respected and reasonably well off family of wool- 
dealers and weavers. In the third generation Christopher emerges 
in his twenties as a man to be trusted with the commercial and 
specifically the maritime enterprises of others. The documents 
provide the basis for the family tree shown opposite. 

Fernando Columbus is vague about his father's ancestry, and all the 
indications are that Columbus himself, having made his way in the 
world largely by his own efforts, was reticent about it. Fernando hints 
at noble lineage, mentioning * worthy persons of the family in 
Piacenza, where there are also tombs with coats of arms and epitaphs 
including the name Colombo'. He offers no details, and is equally 
vague later when he describes his father's parents simply as 'persons of 



Giovanni Colombo 
of Moconesi and Quinto 

s 7 

Domenico = 
(of Genoa 
and Savona 
b. 1418) 

= Susanna Fontanarossa Antonio : 

i i ; i i i i i i 

Cristoforo Giovanni Bartolomeo Giacomo Bianchinetta Giovanni Matteo Amiguetto 
(of Genoa Pellegrino (Giannetto) 

and Savona) 

worth brought down in the world by the wars and conflicts in 
Lombardy'. 6 

Giovanni Colombo, the explorer's grandfather, came from 
Moconesi, in eastern Liguria. In 1429 he was living in the village of 
Quinto, five miles east of Genoa, and had a son, Domenico, born in 
1418. Giovanni had at least one other son, Antonio. In February 1429, 
not long before Domenico's eleventh birthday, Giovanni bound his 
son to a six-year apprenticeship with a weaver called William, from 
Brabant. 7 

In September 1440, aged twenty-two, with five years as a qualified 
weaver behind him, Domenico was granted the leasehold of a house in 
the Vico dell'Olivella, in Genoa, on land belonging to the monastery 
of Santo Stefano. 8 By 1447, still in his twenties, he was evidently a 
man of some civic prominence. A document survives in which the 
Doge of Genoa appoints him Keeper of the Olivella tower and gate, 
not far from his house; 9 another, dated 7 January 1450, orders the 
city treasurer to pay him the three-monthly stipend for himself, as 
Keeper, and his subordinates; 10 others refer to him as Keeper of the 
gate in October 1450 and November 1451. 

Before I45I 11 Domenico acquired a wife, Susanna Fontanarossa, 
from the nearby valley of the Bisagno. Their first child, Cristoforo, 
was probably born in the autumn of that year. They subsequently 
had at least three other sons: Giovanni Pellegrino (alive in 1473 hut 
probably dead, like his mother, by 1489), 12 Bartolomeo and 
Giacomo. 13 The youngest, Giacomo, was probably born around 
I468. 14 There was also a daughter, Bianchinetta, who married a 
cheesemonger. 15 

The involvement in the wool and clothing trades continued. In 1460 
Domenico acted as guarantor when his brother Antonio apprenticed 
his son Giovanni, named after his grandfather but called affectionately 
Giannetto, to the tailor Antonio Dellepiane. By 1470, now prominent 
among his fellow tradespeople, and described as 'master weaver of 
Genoa', Domenico signed an agreement with the clothiers' council of 
Savona, approved by the weavers' corporation of Genoa. 16 The 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

family's link with Savona developed to the point where Domenico 
decided to move house there. Christopher appears as the witness of a 
will signed in Savona on 20 February I47 2 17 * n which he is 
described as a 'clothier of Genoa', but in a similar document of the 20 
March 1472, still 'clothier of Genoa', he and two other witnesses, both 
tailors, are apparently all included in the description 'citizens of 
Savona'. 18 In August of the same year Domenico and Christopher 
both signed a document acknowledging a debt for wool in Savona, 
Domenico being described as a 'clothier, resident in Savona'. 19 

In August 1473 the family was living in a house in the street of San 
Giuliano in Savona. On 7 August, in the bottega (shop) there, 
Susanna, Christopher and Giovanni gave legal form to their agree- 
ment to the sale by Domenico of the house near the Olivella gate in 
Genoa. 20 A document of 1483 shows that by then Domenico had 
returned to Genoa and was living in the Vico Dritto. The last evidence 
showing him to be still alive is probably a will witnessed by a 
Domenico Colombo on 3 September 1490, when he would have 
been in his early seventies. Domenico's sons maintained, or renewed, 
the connection with Savona, but the link subsequently became 
attenuated; in a 1501 document Christopher, Bartholomew and 
Giovanni are described as owning a house in the town but as having 
been long absent from it. 

Information on Columbus's date of birth must be gleaned from 
allusions to his age in later documents. In a manuscript dated 31 
October 1470 in which he acknowledges a debt he is described as 
being 'over nineteen years of age'. 21 When he appears as a witness in a 
court case on 25 August 1479, he gives his age as 'about twenty- 
seven'. These dates are a little confusing. If his age was nineteen on 3 1 
October 1470, he must have been born between i November 1450 and 
31 October 1451. If he was still twenty-six on 25 August 1479, but 
almost twenty-seven, he must have been born shortly after 25 August 
1452. One way of reconciling the two pieces of data is to interpret the 
second as meaning 'twenty-seven, rising twenty-eight*, which would 
indicate that he was born after 25 August 1451. We can say with 
confidence, then, that he was born after i November 1450 and before 
the end of 1452, and accept more reservedly the generally suggested 
dating of the autumn of 145 1 . 

Of Columbus's boyhood and adolescence we know nothing 
beyond what can be collected from the sparse documentary informa- 
tion on family movements and occupation already surveyed. 
Fernando's life of his father claims that he learned his letters early and 
studied at the University of Pa via. The matriculation records of the 
University apparently provide no evidence to support this, 22 and the 
guarded phrasing used by Fernando suggests that, even if the claim is 



not totally spurious, Columbus's university education was not a 
prolonged one. But study he certainly did, somehow - enough to read 
and write Latin capably in later life, and: 

Enough ... to understand the geographers, to whose teachings he was 
greatly devoted ... he also studied astronomy and geometry, since these are 
closely related sciences, dependent on each other. And since Ptolemy says in 
the beginning of his Geographic that to be a good geographer one must know 
how to draw, he learned drawing, so as to be able to show the positions of 
countries, and to form geographic bodies in the plane or in the round. 23 

Most books about Columbus include a picture of him. The scores of 
portraits of him are contradictory, and none have been authenticated 
as dating from his own lifetime. The one I have included is symbolic 
rather than representational. The Journal looks outward through its 
author's eyes; its greatest interest lies in the interplay between the 
vision in his mind and the reality he sees unfolding around him, and in 
his efforts to reconcile the two without losing the vision, in a situation 
of loneliness and semi mutiny. His physical appearance is secondary, 
and our own imagined Columbus is as valid a representation of him 
as any other portrait. The best assistance to our imagination is the 
passage in which his own son describes him: 

A well-built man of average height; his face was long, with rather high 
cheekbones, and his body neither fat nor lean. His nose was aquiline, his eyes 
light in colour, and his complexion fresh and ruddy. His hair was fair when 
he was young, but turned grey when he was thirty. He was very restrained 
and modest in his dress, and temperate in matters of food and drink. He had 
an easy way with strangers, and was very pleasant with his household, 
though rather serious. 

It will be seen that in most respects the portrait 1 have included is at 
odds with this description. However, it is in accord, at least, with the 
stress laid by Fernando on his father's God-fearing nature: 

In religion he was so strict in fasting and prayer that one could easily have 
taken him to be a member of a religious order. He hated swearing and 
blasphemy; the only oath I ever heard him say was 'By St Ferdinand!* Even 
when he was very angry with someone the worst he would say to rebuke 
them was 'God take you!' He began everything he wrote with the words lesus 
cum Maria sit nobis in via. 24 

In all this, there is not one word about the sea. The details of 
Columbus's change of profession are as obscure as his reasons. What is 
clear is that, having grown up in a respected and comfortably off 
family, he displayed a degree of commercial talent and trustworthi- 
ness which won him the confidence of prosperous fellow citizens, 
including some with maritime interests who were willing to offer him 
a role in their enterprises. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Fernando quotes a letter written to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1 501 in 
which Columbus claims to have been at sea for over forty years. 25 If 
we were to take this literally, rather than as a rhetorical generalization, 
it would take Columbus's seafaring back to 1461, when he was only 
nine or ten years old. The Genoese documentary evidence already 
mentioned suggests that he was engaged principally in the woollen 
trade with his father until at least 1472. We must take the claim of forty 
years at sea with a large pinch of salt. Anyone living in Genoa, with 
family links to the coastal villages of Liguria, could not fail to imbibe 
something of the seafaring traditions of the area, especially if his 
family was engaged in any form of entrepreneurial trade, but if 
Columbus did go to sea before the age often, or even in his teens, it 
was probably a matter of a few coastal journeys or an occasional trip in 
a fishing boat rather than any serious service. A reference in the 
Journal, also quoted by Fernando, is probably more reliable, not least 
because it is obviously not a carelessly chosen round figure: praising 
the harbours of the West Indies in his entry for 21 December 
Columbus says that he has been at sea, without leaving it for any 
considerable length of time, for twenty-three years. This takes his 
seafaring back to 1470. 

In the decade of the 14705 his horizons evidently expanded. 
Fernando 's fourth chapter is almost as vague on the subject of his 
father's early voyages as is his second chapter about his ancestry. He 
excuses himself on the grounds that 'he died before I was bold enough 
to enquire of him about such matters, or, to be more truthful, at a time 
when such things were a long way from my childish mind. ' Fernando, 
however, had evidently scoured his father's letters and writings and 
put together some helpful details. 

He quotes another letter in which Columbus describes being sent 
to Tunis in a ship of King Rene of Anjou to capture the galleass 
Fernandina. He gives no date, but the name of the enemy vessel 
suggests that the voyage was part of Rent's long-running hostilities 
with Aragon, which continued into the early 1470$ and for which he 
chartered Genoese vessels. 26 The letter claims that Columbus was 
captain, which seems extremely unlikely, not so much on the grounds 
of maritime inexperience (the master, rather than the captain, was 
responsible for the working of the ship) as because of his extreme 

It may seem odd that a young man in the woollen trade should 
suddenly find himself afloat and engaged in a foreign King's wars, but 
certain events of the mid-i47Os reveal how just such a thing could 
happen. The island of Chios was captured in 1346 by Genoese 
privateers, and Genoa subsequently exploited and controlled the 
lucrative trade in Chian mastic, a soluble resin used in early medicine. 



In 1474 and 1475 ships were fitted out by Genoese merchants for 
journeys to Chios in order to trade and to ward off the Turks. These 
merchants included Paolo di Negro and members of the Spinola 
family. In his Journal Columbus mentions having seen the mastic trees 
of Chios, and indeed grows obsessive in his conviction that the 
Caribbean gumbo-limbo is the same valuable tree. 

Two other details suggest that Columbus took part in one of these 
Chios voyages, or a similar one. First, he had close connections with 
Paolo di Negro, whose heirs are mentioned in Columbus's will, as 
is Battista Spinola, the son-in-law of di Negro's trading partner. 
Secondly, the records of the voyage of the Roxanna, fitted out for the 
Chios voyage at Savona in 1474, by Gioffredo Spinola, mention that 
the soldiers and sailors aboard were accompanied by some 'tradesmen 
of Savona', including tes.sitori, weavers. Columbus was living in 
Savona at the time, was occupied in the cloth business, and had close 
contacts with at least one member of the family of Gioffredo Spinola. 
Whether or not we draw the conclusion that the Roxanna' s voyage 
was Columbus *s initiation into serious seafaring, it provides a good 
example of ho w a landsman whose trade and living had been based on 
the produce of terra finna could find himself on a swaying deck, with 
new ambitions fired by sunlit islands which not only delighted the 
senses but also offered rich argosies of profit to resolute men. 

These Chios voyages, small affairs compared to many Genoese 
enterprises, nevertheless encapsulate the city's mediaeval achieve- 
ments. In the view of modern Italians, thegenovese is a man canny with 
money, like the English concept of the Scot. This semantic restriction 
traduces a mediaeval city and state whose tradition, not unsullied by 
greed, combined that greed with a clarity of purpose, a breadth of 
geographical vision and inquisitiveness, and a tolerance of hardship 
and risk in distant places, which must have commanded the admira- 
tion even of the envious. If not a single written word survived 
indicating Columbus's origins - if he had emerged from the blackness 
of history ready forged and tempered as the seafarer of his late thirties, 
and we had only his vision of a sea route to the Indies and the narratives 
of his voyages on which to base a wager as to his birthplace - our best 
bet would be Genoa. 

If we were allowed to hedge our bets, our first alternative might 
well be Portugal. But this is taking us ahead of our story. 

From the early 14705 onwards Columbus expanded his sea-going 
experience, initially, one presumes, within the Mediterranean, but 
also with at least one excursion to the far north Atlantic, at least one 
journey to Madeira, and at least one voyage in the developing trade 
with the Atlantic coast of tropical Africa. In this widening of horizons 
he was borne along by two historical currents: the search by the 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Genoese for new Atlantic markets as their oriental connections shrank 
and their Mediterranean influence waned, and the rise in the power 
of Portugal, so favourably placed to develop and control maritime 
exploration southward. 

Paradoxically, the Genoese control of the Mediterranean mastic 
trade was a decisive factor in Columbus 's introduction to Atlantic 
navigation and the beginnings of the weakening of his links with 
Genoa to the level of nostalgia. His acquaintance with the merchant 
families of the city provided him with a role in a stirring voyage which 
crucially affected the course of his life. In 1476 a group including Paolo 
di Negro and the Spinolas put together a fleet to take a shipment of 
Chian mastic to Portugal, England and Flanders. Columbus went on 
this voyage, in a role unknown. Off Lagos in Portugal the ships were 
attacked by a combined French and Portuguese fleet. Several ships 
were sunk on either side, including the one on which Columbus was 
sailing. He is said to have been wounded in the battle, but to have 
seized a floating oar and made his way to shore and subsequently to 
Lisbon. 27 According to Fernando, as 'many of his Genoese country- 
men lived in that city', he received a warm welcome. 

How long he stayed on this involuntary visit to Portugal we do not 
know, but he must have returned quite quickly to the sea. Fernando 
mentions a note by his father saying that in February 1477 he sailed 
a hundred leagues beyond Thule, by which he probably means 
Iceland. 2S Columbus describes Thule as being the size of England, 
which rules out the Faroes, and mentions the trade between there and 
Bristol. It was possibly on this or a similar Icelandic voyage that he 
called at Galway, for, annotating one of the books he was reading, he 
describes seeing a man and woman with curious features adrift in a 
boat there. 29 He supposed them to be from Cathay. Why he or anyone 
should sail a hundred leagues beyond Iceland, especially in the late 
winter, it is difficult to say. He also mentions the extreme tidal range 
in Icelandic waters, over fifty feet. This is simply not true, and all in all 
the matter of Columbus's Icelandic voyage is beset by problems. 30 

The likelihood is that it was a trading voyage from Lisbon; once 
integrated into the Genoese community there Columbus was well 
placed to renew and develop the relationship of trust built up with the 
merchants of his home city and to undertake Portuguese commissions 
on their behalf. In the 1479 court case already mentioned Columbus, 
as witness, described a visit to Madeira in 1478. Paolo di Negro, the 
Genoese merchant involved in the Chian mastic trade and the abortive 
voyage which had brought Columbus to Lisbon, was in the 
Portuguese capital himself, having been commissioned by Lodovico 
Centurione to buy a cargo of sugar from Madeira. Columbus went to 
Madeira on di Negro's behalf, not as a sea captain but simply as an 



agent, and bought the sugar, which was then to have been loaded by 
a ship of unspecified nationality commanded by a Portuguese. 31 
Columbus had beh supplied with only a proportion of the purchase 
money, and when the rest failed to arrive the sellers withheld most of 
the sugar, hence the problems of Lodovico Centurione which gave 
rise to the court hearing. 

Columbus's residence in Lisbon continued, or was resumed, in 
1479. He gave evidence about the Madeira affair to the court in Genoa 
on 25 August, but in answer to the question as to whether he had to 
leave soon, he replied, 'Yes, tomorrow, for Lisbon.' The notary, 
nevertheless, describes him as a citizen of Genoa. Early historians state 
that he was engaged in a chart-making enterprise in Lisbon with his 
brother Bartholomew, who had arrived there before him. 32 

He did not abandon the sea for long, but he was ashore long enough 
to find himself a wife, and one of higher status than might have been 
aspired to by a foreign mercantile jack-of-all-trades. At some rime in 
the late 14703 he met and married Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, the 
daughter of a nobleman, Bartolomeo Perestrello. The surname is 
Italian; the family originated in Piacenza but emigrated to Lisbon in 
the fourteenth century. Felipa's father, having taken part in the 
Portuguese expedition to colonize Madeira and the nearby island of 
Porto Santo in 1425, was made hereditary captain of Porto Santo. 
Felipa's brother, also called Bartolomeo, was captain of the island in 
the 14708. We know that Columbus's new wife spent time on the 
island after their marriage, for their son, Diego, was born there, 
probably in or around I48o. 33 Columbus may have accompanied her, 
or he may have been away voyaging. Fernando says that his father 
lived for a while with Felipa's mother, who gave him her dead 
husband's charts and notes, and that at this time he took a great interest 
in the contemporary explorations being made by the Portuguese. 34 It 
would not be long before he gained first-hand knowledge of them; 
indeed, he may already have acquired it. 

At some time, probably in the early years of his marriage, and 
before Felipa died in 1485, Columbus lived in Madeira, perhaps still 
engaged in the sugar trade with Genoa. Las Casas, describing the 
explorer's visit to Funchal in 1498, mentions the warm welcome he 
was given, being well known there because of his previous period of 
residence. 35 

To be part of the maritime society of Portugal in the 1470$ would 
have quickened the spirit of any man, let alone one with the questing 
tradition of Genoa behind him. After colonizing Madeira and the 
Azores in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and 
discovering the Cape Verde islands, with Genoese participation, in 
the 1450s, the Portuguese Crown had directed the explorations of its 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Genoese for new Atlantic markets as their oriental connections shrank 
and their Mediterranean influence waned, and the rise in the power 
of Portugal, so favourably placed to develop and control maritime 
exploration southward. 

Paradoxically, the Genoese control of the Mediterranean mastic 
trade was a decisive factor in Columbus 's introduction to Atlantic 
navigation and the beginnings of the weakening of his links with 
Genoa to the level of nostalgia. His acquaintance with the merchant 
families of the city provided him with a role in a stirring voyage which 
crucially affected the course of his life. In 1476 a group including Paolo 
di Negro and the Spinolas put together a fleet to take a shipment of 
Chian mastic to Portugal, England and Flanders. Columbus went on 
this voyage, in a role unknown. Off Lagos in Portugal the ships were 
attacked by a combined French and Portuguese fleet. Several ships 
were sunk on either side, including the one on which Columbus was 
sailing. He is said to have been wounded in the battle, but to have 
seized a floating oar and made his way to shore and subsequently to 
Lisbon. 27 According to Fernando, as 'many of his Genoese country- 
men lived in that city', he received a warm welcome. 

How long he stayed on this involuntary visit to Portugal we do not 
know, but he must have returned quite quickly to the sea. Fernando 
mentions a note by his father saying that in February 1477 he sailed 
a hundred leagues beyond Thule, by which he probably means 
Iceland. 28 Columbus describes Thule as being the size of England, 
which rules out the Faroes, and mentions the trade between there and 
Bristol. It was possibly on this or a similar Icelandic voyage that he 
called at Gal way, for, annotating one of the books he was reading, he 
describes seeing a man and woman with curious features adrift in a 
boat there. 29 He supposed them to be from Cathay. Why he or anyone 
should sail a hundred leagues beyond Iceland, especially in the late 
winter, it is difficult to say. He also mentions the extreme tidal range 
in Icelandic waters, over fifty feet. This is simply not true, and all in all 
the matter of Columbus's Icelandic voyage is beset by problems. 30 

The likelihood is that it was a trading voyage from Lisbon; once 
integrated into the Genoese community there Columbus was well 
placed to renew and develop the relationship of trust built up with the 
merchants of his home city and to undertake Portuguese commissions 
on their behalf. In the 1479 court case already mentioned Columbus, 
as witness, described a visit to Madeira in 1478. Paolo di Negro, the 
Genoese merchant involved in the Chian mastic trade and the abortive 
voyage which had brought Columbus to Lisbon, was in the 
Portuguese capital himself, having been commissioned by Lodovico 
Centurione to buy a cargo of sugar from Madeira. Columbus went to 
Madeira on di Negro's behalf, not as a sea captain but simply as an 


went on in the other to Lisbon, may be an allusion to an African trip. 
Certainly the fact that Columbus took with him a quadrant and other 
instruments (one of them probably an astrolabe) suggests that he was 
acting at least as an officer and possibly as master or captain when he 
took his sightings on the way to Guinea. 

His conclusions from his solar observations supported a conviction 
crucial to his subsequent plan to sail westward to the far east. The 
marginal note continues: '. . . and I found that [my readings] agreed 
with Alfragan 39 that a degree is equal to 56$ miles ... so we may 
therefore conclude that the circumference of the earth on the Equator 
is 20,400 miles.' Whether this substantial underestimate and other 
marginal comments on the same lines were a cause or an effect of 
Columbus's project to sail westward, they are very germane to his 
own view of the validity of the scheme. 

I have mentioned the world map of Henricus Martellus. If 
Columbus did set eyes on it (and he certainly saw a map which had 
important features in common with it) what interested him most was 
the size of the land mass of Europe and Asia compared to the extent of 
the area of water separating the west coast of Europe from Japan. In 
reading Columbus's marginal annotations to his own books, of which 
we shall have more to say shortly, one notices that he seizes avidly on 
any item indicating or exaggerating the length and hardship of the 
overland journey from Europe to the orient, or suggesting that a 
western passage by sea might be shorter than accepted opinion 
supposed. The Martellus map does both. The crucial factor is the scale 
of longitude: on fifteenth-century maps based on Ptolemy the 
longitude between Cape St Vincent in the west and the furthest limit 
of Asia in the east is 180 degrees, leaving half the circumference of the 
earth as water, largely vacant and almost entirely unexplored. 
Henricus Martellus expanded the land mass so that it occupied 270 
degrees, leaving only 90 degrees of ocean separating Spain from the 
orient, and some of this had already been explored with the discovery 
of the Azores and Canaries, with which Columbus was by now well 

The logistical implications are obvious. European commercial 
navigation, even to foreign lands, was largely done coastwise; it 
seldom took mariners out of contact with the land for periods of 
weeks. The idea of a continuous voyage around half the circumference 
of the world, unbroken except for the chance of an occasional call at 
Atlantic islands dubiously charted and possibly legendary, was 
untenable. Even with constant fair winds the problems of water and 
stores, and their replacement with ballast as they were used up, would 
be daunting, and if the winds on the outward passage were fair all the 
way, how would one ever get home again? But reduce the distance by 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

half, and shorten it further by taking on water and stores in the 
Canaries, and the voyage became something brave men could 
rationally contemplate. 

Columbus, in fact, like Alfragan and Henricus Martellus, was 
hugely wrong, and those of his contemporaries who adhered to the 
more correct view of the distance to be covered were right to decry his 
plan as the product of self-deluding optimism. What neither he nor 
they could know was that a new continent would interrupt his 
outward voyage when it was really only half complete. Had it not 
been there to save both him and his fragile reputation he and his crews 
might have vanished without trace, like many others. That, or they 
would have turned for home in a mood of mutiny and recrimination 
and struggled with empty holds, half starved and thirsty, into some 
Andalusian port, to face ridicule and, in Columbus 's case, a lifetime's 

In those brave days in Portugal, though, with a grand design 
forming in his mind, all was hope and optimism. Columbus was now 
a man in the prime of life, experienced in the control of others, and 
psychologically free from the confines of the Mediterranean. He had 
seen the sunlit waters of the tropical Atlantic, admired the sea-keeping 
qualities of the weatherly Portuguese caravels, and felt the steady 
northeast trade winds on his port quarter as his ship ran down to 
Africa. Alter course through ninety degrees, bring those same fair 
winds onto the starboard quarter, and the way lay open across an 
Atlantic shrunken in his mind by erroneous computation, wishful 
thinking, selectivity in the choice of geographical authorities, and an 
incipient sense of personal mission; an ocean bounded on its western 
side by Cathay, Japan and the Spice Islands. 

Planning and 

While he was in Portugal the Admiral began to speculate 
that if the Portuguese could sail so far southward, it 
should be possible to sail just as far to the west, and that 
one might expect to find land in that direction ... He 
grew convinced beyond doubt that west of the Canaries 
and the Cape Verdes many lands lay waiting to be 

Fernando Columbus, who wrote the above words, had access to his 
father's library and writings, including some which have not survived. 
Fernando was a scholarly man, who saw the bases of his father's project 
in the writings of early geographers, cosmologists and travellers: 
Ptolemy, Aristotle, Marinus, Strabo, Pliny, Pierre d'Ailly and Marco 
Polo. However, we cannot be certain that all these works were 
influential, nor indeed that they all formed part of the explorer's library* 
He certainly owned some of them, and his copies of the books are 
marked by copious underscorings and marginal comments in his own 
handwriting. Many of these comments may be post-1492, though if this 
is so it is surprising that only one of them alludes to his personal 
experiences in the Caribbean (or, as he continued to think, in the orient). 
In any case, their content is highly indicative of Columbus's trains of 
thought and vision of the shape of the world. 1 

The books of most interest in relation to the voyage are the Historia 
Rerum Ubique Gestarum of Pius n, the Imago Mundi of Pierre d'Ailly 
and the Travels of Marco Polo, all in Latin, and an Italian version of 
Pliny's Natural History. The view of the orient which emerges from 
the originals is interesting in itself, and the wording of the comments 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

more so. The passages which specially interested Columbus were of 
three kinds: those describing natural wealth or rich artefacts (gold, 
precious stones, spices, porcelain, architecture); the allusions to 
curious ethnological features; and any sentences which either accentu- 
ated the difficulties and length of the overland journey to the east or 
suggested that the westward distance from Europe to Japan could be 
less than normally supposed. 

The chronological relationship between his first and later readings 
of these works, the writing of the comments, and his voyages is 
difficult to establish. The comments may be interpreted as contribu- 
tions to the development of the thinking which lay behind his project, 
or as a later, more defensive form of self-justification; Columbus 
continued to believe that he had reached the far east for some time after 
subsequent voyages by himself and others had accumulated evidence 
suggesting to the impartial that his discoveries were part of a new 

His marginal notes about natural wealth, especially in his comments 
on Marco Polo, 2 grow repetitive: 

Gold and jewels in plenty . . . emeralds ... In Trapobana there are jewels 
and elephants . . . Crison and Argirem have gold and silver ... In India there 
are many things . . . aromatic spices, many precious stones, mountains of 
gold . . . rhubarb . . . lapis lazuli . . . precious stones . . . mines of silver . . . 
innumerable goods . . . gemstones and pearls . . . gold, silver, precious 
stones . . . cloth of gold . . . ginger, pheasants, wax in plenty . . . nutmeg 
. . . coral used as money . . . cinnamon, aloes and many other spices which 
are not brought to us ... a lake of pearls . . . ginger, cinnamon, many 
aromatic things . . . turquoises . . . They cover their teeth with gold . . . 
Store of ginger, sugar, elephants, spices , . . rhubarb and gingef . . . lignum 
aloes, sandalwood . . . plates of porcelain , . . rubies . . . amber . . . 

We can see him absorbing from these writers, and mentally 
embroidering, a vision of an advanced civilization with huge concen- 
trations of people, a rich architecture and a seething maritime trade: 

The city of Cambalec ... is twenty-eight miles around , . . Nemptai ... is 
thirty miles around, teeming with people. In other towns the houses, palaces, 
temples and all the other civic architecture are like those of Italy . . . rooms 
adorned with gold . . . beautiful palaces . . . innumerable ships and 
merchants . . . ships in great numbers ... a thousand ships . . . fifteen 
thousand ships . . . The city of Synguy is sixty miles in circumference . . . 
Quinsay is the largest city in the world, a hundred miles around, with twelve 
thousand stone bridges . . . 

This evidence about Columbus *s reading explains much about the 
content of the Journal. He had desperate difficulties in his conversa- 
tions with the Indians. It is obvious that wishful thinking played a role 



in his interpretation of their signs and noises, and that such thinking 
was often founded on elements which had impressed him in his 
reading of descriptions of the lands in which he thought he had 
arrived. Throughout his time in the islands his conviction is apparent 
that these are merely the undeveloped fringes of an oriental empire; 
that when he finds the mainland he will be among the buzzing markets 
and gilded palaces of his vision. He seizes eagerly on anything which 
will bolster his confidence: the gold, obviously, but also the fool's 
gold in the rivers; the mastic trees, aloe plants and medicinal rhubarb 
which were all really something else; the rich vegetation, which must 
surely yield endless spices, if he in his sailor's ignorance could only 
identify them; and any sign or sound made by the Indians which could 
be interpreted as an allusion to the presence of more sophisticated 
peoples over the horizon. 

It is often possible to relate what he thought the Indians told him 
about other tribes and islands to specific passages in his reading which 
caught his attention sufficiently to call for a marginal remark. He is 
fascinated by cannibalism; his comments on Pius n, Pierre d'Ailly and 
Marco Polo include: 'Anthropophagi who eat human flesh . . . wild 
men who eat human flesh; their faces are ugly and loathsome . . . 
people who eat human flesh ... In Synguy they eat human flesh. ' 
This same obsession emerges in the Journal in his interpretation of 
what the Indians tell him; he writes several times that the people he has 
met are preyed on by cannibals. 

He also claims in the Journal that the Indians told him about a pair of 
islands, one occupied solely by women, the other by men, who joined 
the women once a year for breeding purposes. This idea too probably 
springs from Marco Polo, to whose description of similar islands 3 
Columbus draws attention in a marginal comment, though Behaim's 
globe also shows an Isla Masculina, populated only by men, in the 
Indian ocean. The Journal also tells us that the Indians mentioned a 
tribe with faces like dogs, an idea present in Marco Polo's description 
of the island of Angaman. 4 

The most important of the elements drawn from Columbus' s 
reading which colour the Journal, in this case from his Prologue 
onwards, is the Great Khan, whose imperial power and fabulous 
wealth dominated the mediaeval European view of the east. He clearly 
caught the imagination of Columbus, who comments repeatedly on 
him in the margins of his books: 'The subjects of the Great Khan in 
Cathay . . . He went to war with ten thousand elephants . . . The 
Emperor the Great Khan, the lord of many provinces in Cathay . . . 
The Great Khan once ruled the greater part of Asia . . .* Columbus 
assumes that the tribe he calls the Caniba or Canima, who terrify the 
friendly Indians whom he first encounters, are the subjects of the 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Great Khan, and are cannibals. His reading, the strangeness of the 
language, and his own wishful self-conditioning combine to produce 
a range of shifting and deluding semantic associations: anthropophagi; 
Caniba; canine-faced men; Great Khan. 

Tradition, from Fernando onwards, also accords great importance 
to an exchange of letters between Columbus and a Florentine, Paolo 
Toscanelli. Little is known of Toscanelli or the reasons for his 
authority, but he had previously been contacted by a Lisbon canon, 
Fernao Martins, who sought advice at the request of the King of 
Portugal on the subject of maritime access to the Spice Islands; 
Toscanelli had written back in 1474, attaching a chart to his letter. 
Columbus heard of this and wrote to Toscanelli through an Italian 
intermediary in Lisbon, Lorenzo Girardi, sending him a small globe 
with an indication of his scheme. Toscanelli obligingly sent him a 
copy of his previous letter to Martins, with a duplicate chart. 

The Toscanelli chart probably no longer exists, though attempts 
have been made to identify it with surviving charts. 5 Fortunately, 
Fernando gives the text of the letter, which has sufficient detail to 
provide a general idea of the chart: 

From Paolo the Physician, to Fernao Martins, canon of Lisbon, greetings. 
I ... have often spoken of a sea route to the Indies, where the spices grow, 
shorter than the route which you are seeking by Guinea. You tell me that His 
Majesty requests some statement or explanation to enable him to understand 
and take that route ... I am therefore sending His Majesty a chart drawn by 
myself, showing the western coast from Ireland down to the end of Guinea, 
with the islands off that coast, and opposite, directly to the west, the 
beginning of the Indies and the islands at which you are bound to arrive. It 
shows how far from the North Pole you are to steer, and the distance in 
leagues to those places so rich in all spices, jewels and precious stones . . . The 
vertical straight lines show the distance from east to west, the lines crossing 
them the distance from north to south. 

In short, here was a map of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans conjoined, 
with lines of latitude and longitude. Toscanelli goes on to describe 
Cathay, the wealth of the Great Khan, the golden island of Cipango 
and the glories of the cities of Zaitun and Quinsay. He is probably 
drawing on Marco Polo, who may well be his source for a reference to 
oriental ambassadors to the Pope, though Toscanelli also refers to a 
conversation between himself and a recent envoy. The chart must 
have shown the island of Antilia, for the letter mentions the ten 250- 
mile longitudinal spaces between it and Cipango, making up a 
distance of 2,500 miles of open sea. Toscanelli implies with a 
landsman's airy confidence that Antilia will serve as a stepping stone, 
and appears to accept its presence as a fact. 

There were probably no countries on the chart which were not on 



earlier charts of the Atlantic or maps of the world; the great difference 
was in orientation. Toscanelli's innovation was the shift from the 
traditional representation of the world as centred on the eastern 
Mediterranean or the Holy Land; unlike his predecessors, he was able 
to sever his mind from the old earthbound view of the journey to and 
from the orient, step after step, river after river, inn after flea-ridden 
inn. Others had read about Quinsay and Cipango; others knew the 
earth was round. Toscanelli simply had the extra vision to imagine 
viewing the supposedly oceanic side of the world from its centrepoint, 
to place Europe on the right of the chart and Cathay and India on the 

It was still a wide ocean, according to Toscanelli's lines of longitude: 
5,000 nautical miles from Lisbon to China. Columbus welcomed the 
concept, but not the mileage, which was not in accordance with his 
own mathematics. He preferred his own, and Alfragan's, calculation 
of the number of miles in a degree on the Equator, underestimating by 
a quarter; he also thought that China extended well to the east of its 
true extent, and overestimated the distance between Japan and 
mainland Asia. 

Columbus wrote again to Toscanelli, evidently stating his intention 
to sail westward. The reply, again quoted by Fernando, adds little of 
interest, beyond mentioning Toscanelli's discussions with 'eminent 
scholars who have come from those places to the Court of Rome and 
. . . merchants who have traded a long time in those parts'. 
Columbus was clearly impressed by the Florentine; he preserved a 
copy of the first letter in his own handwriting at the back of one of his 
books. 6 

Toscanelli, however, merely added scholarly confirmation to 
Columbus's existing convictions. According to Fernando his father 
was quick to seize on any fragment of nautical reminiscence which 
suggested the accessibility of land to the westward. A hint of 
scepticism, fostered by hindsight, invades Fernando's normal filial 
loyalty as he writes of 'these fables and stories ... As they fell in with 
his own designs, he committed them carefully to memory. I shall 
relate them for the interest of those who enjoy such curiosities/ 7 

Most of these seaman's tales were told to Columbus by Atlantic 
islanders. In the Journal (see the entry for 9 August) he mentions 
receiving information on regular sightings of land west of the 
Canaries from the Spaniards of Hierro and Gomera, and from the 
Portuguese in the Azores. Fernando gives a much fuller list, with 
names: Martin Vicente, piloto of the King of Portugal, who 'found 
himself 450 leagues west of Cape St Vincent, and took out of the 
water a piece of ingeniously carved wood after days of constant 
westerly winds; Pedro Correa, the Admiral's brother-in-law, who 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

found a similar piece on the island of Porto Santo, and who told him 
that huge canes, unknown in Europe, were brought ashore by the 
west wind; people in the Azores who told him that after prolonged 
westerlies pine trees of an unfamiliar species were cast up on the 
islands, and that on Flores two corpses with broad, alien faces had 
been washed up. 

Other mariners claimed to have seen islands in the western ocean. A 
Madeira man, Antonio Leme, said he had seen three, but Columbus 
was wary of accepting this and other claims, setting them down to 
sightings of reefs or detached sections of floating rock of the kind 
described by the ancients, for he knew the men had not sailed very far 
west. Fernando supports his father's explanation, suggesting that 'the 
islands [sic] of St Brendan were probably of this kind . . . Cases like 
these possibly explain why people on Hierro, Gomera and the Azores 
told the Admiral that they sighted islands in the west every year/ 

Fernando mentions that another Madeiran asked the King of 
Portugal for a ship to explore an island which he saw every year in the 
same position, and that in the time of the Infante Dom Henrique a 
Portuguese ship, driven off course, found Antilia. Columbus also 
collected information from seamen of the Spanish mainland: Pedro 
de Velasco, of Palos, who had been piloto on the expedition of the 
Portuguese Diogo de Teive, told him that west of Ireland, despite 
strong winds from that quarter, the sea remained calm, and he 
concluded that they were in the lee of land further west. A one-eyed 
seaman from Puerto de Santa Maria and a Galician whom he met in 
Murcia both told him that they had been on voyages during which 
land was sighted west of Ireland. 

According to Fernando these last sightings were of the same land 
which a Portuguese called Fernao Dulmo tried to discover: 'I tell this 
just as I found it in my father's writings, to show how some men will 
base great enterprises on small things. ' This is a reference to an attempt 
to reach the mythical Antilia in 1487. Dulmo, from the Azores, and a 
Madeiran called Joao Estreito set off from Terceira after agreeing with 
the King of Portugal that the expedition would be at their expense, 
and that they would be granted whatever they discovered and titles of 
honour in the event of success. They sailed into historical oblivion. 8 

It has been suggested 9 that the Dulmo-Estreito expedition may 
have been intended as an economical first stage of the Portuguese 
Crown's attempt to find a westward route to the orient, and that the 
stimulus came from Columbus's presentation of his project to King 
Joao ii in 1484. Fernando states clearly that his father's first attempt to 
find backing was an approach to Joao, who gave it serious considera- 
tion, but was put off by the explorer's demands for reward and 
decided to fit out a caravel himself; Las Casas says the same. 10 


Turned down by Portugal, Columbus decided to look elsewhere. 
His wife had died, s and he decided to present himself and his plan at the 
Court of Spain. To avoid loss of time in the event of a second rejection 
he sent his brother Bartholomew to England to try to interest Henry 
vii. 11 Bartholomew was a maker of charts and nautical instruments, 
and had been living in Lisbon. If we can accept Fernando 's account 
(other evidence is hard to come by) Bartholomew had a stressful time: 
captured by pirates, robbed, ill and penniless in a foreign land, he was 
long unsuccessful. He was finally granted interviews with Henry, 
who accepted the proposal with interest, but too late. Fernando does 
not mention that Bartholomew also spent time in France, as later 
French sources state, and again documentary evidence is lacking. 

Columbus himself is reputed to have been in a state of disillusion 
and poverty when he left Portugal, probably in the middle of 1485, 
and to have crossed the frontier secretly to avoid detention by the 
King. After the death of Felipa he chose to take his young son Diego 
with him rather than to leave him with his wife's family. He went first 
not to the Spanish Court, but to the small seaport of Palos, near 
Huelva, on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain. The accounts of the 
next seven years are conflicting and speculative; what emerges from all 
of them is a picture of frustration and slights, of Court bureaucracy 
and conservatism, support offered and withdrawn, success glimpsed 
but elusive. 

Why he went to Palos is unclear. He may have had friends in the 
seafaring community; an acquaintance there, Pedro de Velasco, has 
already been mentioned, but most available evidence suggests that 
there was no substantial link between Columbus and the town. His 
principal reported act on arriving there was to leave young Diego with 
the friars of the nearby Franciscan monastery of La Rabida. Possibly 
he had some previous link with the monastery; certainly the 
Franciscans later helped him considerably in the tortuous attempts to 
put his case to Ferdinand and Isabella. 12 

Columbus refers more than once in the Journal to the ignorant and 
prejudiced opposition he faced in trying to bring his scheme to the 
notice of the King and Queen. Progress depended on the institu- 
tionalized enchufe (introductions, having access to the right ear) which 
is still an aspect of modern Spanish society. This foreigner of 
variegated background, arriving from the capital of a country which 
Spain had some reason to distrust, must have had a persuasive tongue 
and a gift for lucid exposition to win what support he did. If he chose 
to leave Diego at La Rabida by chance, he was fortunate in his choice. 
One of the friars, Fray Juan Perez, the head of the community 
according to Fernando, was or had been a confessor to Queen Isabella. 
Neither Fernando nor Las Casas mentions Fray Juan as having any role 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

in this part of the story, but both describe his crucial assistance at a later 

Another valuable friendship which possibly arose from this visit to 
La Rabida was with a second Franciscan, Antonio de Marchena, the 
custos or regional supervisor of the sub-province of Seville, who was 
something of an astronomer, and moreover had the ear of several 
important members of the aristocracy. 

The order of events in the years 1485-92 is disputed. For Columbus 
himself, in his later years, the sequence of this period must have 
merged into a weary confusion of journeys, meetings, pleas, appoint- 
ments and disappointments. Even the early historians have difficulty 
in unravelling things. Both Las Casas and Fernando say that 
Columbus went immediately from Palos to the Court of Ferdinand 
and Isabella in Cordoba and put his case. Las Casas gives the date of his 
arrival as 20 January 1485; this is the only firm date for any event from 
148 5-92. 13 

Yet modern research suggests that Las Casas was wrong, that 
Columbus did not arrive in Cordoba until January 1486, and that he 
was unable to approach the King and Queen until their return from the 
north in the spring of the year. 14 In 1485, on the advice of Fray 
Antonio de Marchena, he applied to a member of the high Spanish 
aristocracy in Seville, the Duke of Medina Sidonia. 15 Negotiations 
appear to have gone well initially, but to have been broken off when 
the Duke lost the royal favour and had to quit Seville. 

Columbus's next target was the munificent Duke of Medinaceli, 16 
who had shipping interests in Puerto de Santa Maria and received 
him very favourably. According to Las Casas 17 the Duke not only 
promised to pay all the expenses of the voyage, including the 
construction of three new vessels, but hearing of Columbus's poverty 
supported him in his day-to-day living. Unfortunately, moved by 
conscience, vainglory or a desire for insurance, the Duke applied to 
the King and Queen for their approval, and must have been mortified 
when Isabella expressed interest in the project but told him in 
flattering but unequivocal terms to look to his own affairs and leave 
the sponsoring of world exploration to those whose royal dignity 
qualified them for it. In the words of Las Casas, 'the Duke was 
unbelievably distressed by this, for the better he understood the 
project the more he wanted to go ahead with it and bring it to 
completion. However, being a wise man, and having no alternative, 
he accepted the Queen's wish, and being also a good Christian he took 
it to be the will of God and agreed to bear with it. ' 

When the Duke offered support, and even more so when Isabella 
expressed interest, Columbus must have thought his main difficulties 
were over, but there were still many hurdles in front of him. On 20 



January 1486 he arrived in Cordoba, from where Ferdinand and 
Isabella had been conducting the campaign against the Moors of 
Granada, and there, in the words of his son, 'by his likeable nature and 
pleasant conversation won the friendship of men who became his 
staunchest supporters and were best placed to press his case to the 
King and Queen'. It may well be that his visit to La Rabida produced 
an introduction to these men from Fray Juan Perez, or even that he 
went to the monastery deliberately to seek such an introduction in the 
prior knowledge of Perez's contacts with the Court. 

Both Fernando and Las Casas mention the special role of the 
Aragonese Secretary of the Household, Luis de Santangel; Las Casas 
also lists among Columbus's supporters Cardinal Pero Gonzalez de 
Mendoza, the royal tutor Diego de Deza, later Archbishop of Seville, 
and Juan Cabrero, the King's Chamberlain. Las Casas mentions later 
letters in Columbus 's own hand in which he describes Deza and 
Cabrero as his special supporters, but goes on to say that the greatest 
influence was exerted by Santangel, who had particular access to the 
ear of the Queen. 

Ferdinand and Isabella were away from Cordoba, as we have seen, 
until the spring of 1486. Before then, or soon afterwards, Columbus's 
'likeable nature and pleasant conversation' found another outlet and 
won him access to the company of Beatriz Enrfquez de Harana, a girl 
of peasant stock whose parents were dead and who was living with 
relatives of modest shop-keeping status in the town. In 1488 she 
became the mother of the illegitimate Fernando, who turned out to be 
so loyal a biographer of his father and a support to his legitimate half- 
brother Diego in later years. The signs are that this was a love match, 
though Columbus never married Beatriz, probably because he 
thought it socially disadvantageous. The stresses of life and voyaging 
separated them, but she remained in Columbus's mind to the last; 
he took care to support her financially, and in his will he mentioned 
his great debt to her and his heavy conscience. He made no specific 
bequest to her, but asked Diego to look to her welfare. Diego, too, 
with the blood of Portuguese aristocrats in his veins, mentioned 
Beatriz in his own will. 18 

When the King and Queen returned a royal commission was set up 
to examine the project. The chronology of its deliberations is vague; it 
took its time. Fray Hernando de Talavera, Prior of the monastery of El 
Prado, near Valladolid, was ordered to assemble a group of 'persons 
whom he thought most knowledgeable in cosmography'. According 
to Las Casas he had problems in selecting his men, for 'the depth of 
ignorance surrounding the subject in Castile in those days was 
astonishing.' 19 

The members of the commission met many times, first in Cordoba 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

and later in Salamanca; they adjourned many times, and went away on 
their own business many times, and came back, and said many things 
which seem laughable now. They were laughable already a few 
decades later, when Las Casas and Fernando wrote about them. The 
world was thousands of years old; if there were lands to discover 
someone would have done it; Ptolemy and the other wise men would 
have known about them. The world was too large; Seneca said that the 
ancients thought the Ocean Sea to be infinite and, even if navigable, 
empty; even if it contained islands, they could not be habitable; even if 
they were habitable, they could never be found. If a vessel sailed west, 
it could never return; the world was admittedly round, so if one sailed 
out of the hemisphere described by Ptolemy one would be going 
downhill. To return, a ship would have to sail uphill, which was 
impossible; *a fine piece of deep thinking, ' comments Las Casas, 'and a 
real sign of mastery of the subject!' 20 

Other evidence brought forward against Columbus included the 
opinion of the ancients that of the five zones of the world three were 
uninhabitable, and St Augustine's statement that the Antipodes did 
not exist. No one, notice, contended that the world was flat, with an 
edge one could sail over, but Columbus's views failed to impress; *the 
more convincing his arguments, the less these ignorant men under- 
stood, for when a mathematician grows old, his established miscon- 
ceptions make him incapable of grasping the truth.' 21 

This chapter of misery continued until the commission presented 
its report in 1490. Glimpses of Columbus's life in the meantime 
are scanty. He was given a modest royal retainer; treasurer's records 
mention payments to him in 1487, 1488 and 1489, in two cases to 
enable him to comply with summonses to come to the royal campaign 
headquarters outside besieged Andalusian cities. It is likely that he 
spent much of his time in Cordoba with Beatriz, his books and, from 
1488 onwards, his new son Fernando. (He remembered Cordoba and 
the surrounding countryside with affection during the voyage. In the 
Journal, when he needs to convey the calmness of the sea, the balmy 
weather or the richness of the islands' greenery, he usually makes 
comparisons with Andalusia, and within it either the Guadalquivir 
river at Seville or the landscape around Cordoba. Despite the lasting 
bitterness engendered by the long struggle with his Spanish detrac- 
tors, he evidently drew temporary comfort from his new homeland.) 

The commission's report was predictably unenthusiastic, but 
Ferdinand and Isabella's response was not totally negative. Las Casas 
states that they suggested to Columbus that the matter might be raised 
again at some future date after the war with the Moors had been 
successfully concluded. Another reason suggested by La Casas for 
their muted response was the general economic situation, for 'hard 



times make hard hearts'. He also offers some monkish reflections on 
the will of God. 22 

There is no information about Columbus's movements between 
the submission of the report and mid-i49i. He may have remained at 
Court awaiting the pleasure of the King and Queen, though there is no 
evidence that his retainer was still being paid. In the summer of 1491 
he went back to Palos and La Rabida, intending to remove Diego from 
the monastery, take him to Cordoba (according to Fernando) or 
Huelva (according to Las Casas), and proceed to France to present his 
project there. The visit to La Rabida was a crucial point in his life, and 
the tide appears to have been turned by Fray Juan Perez, to whom 
Columbus told his woeful tale and explained the details of the project. 
A local scholar and astronomer called Garci Hernandez was brought 
into the discussions. He later testified to the court which considered 
thepleitos de Colon (the legal representations in the dispute between the 
Crown and the Columbus family over the legitimacy of the claims of 
the explorer and his successors to the rewards from the discoveries, of 
which more presently), and his testimony has a ring of authenticity in 
its description of the events which followed: 

[The witness said that] the three of them talked the matter over and chose a 
man from here to take a letter to Queen Isabella, may she rest in holy glory, 
from Fray Juan Perez, who was her confessor, and the bearer of the letter was 
a piloto from Lepe called Sebastian Rodriguez. They made Columbus stay in 
the monastery until Her Majesty's reply arrived and they knew the outcome, 
and after a fortnight the Queen wrote to Fray Juan Perez thanking him for his 
good intentions and ordering him to present himself at Court before Her 
Majesty, and to leave Christopher Columbus with the hope of a fair outcome 
until Her Majesty wrote to him. Having read the contents of the letter, the 
friar left the monastery secretly before midnight, and in obedience to Her 
Majesty rode to the Court on a mule, and there were consultations about the 
possibility of giving Columbus three ships to enable him to sail on a voyage 
of discovery and make good his claims. The Queen then sent twenty 
thousand maravedis, in florins, by the hand of Diego Prieto, a citizen of this 
town, with a letter to the witness telling him to give them to Columbus 
to allow him to dress decently, buy himself a mount and go to the Court. 
Columbus was given the money and appeared before the Queen ... to 
discuss the matter. 23 

By all accounts King Ferdinand faded into the background in the later 
stages of the negotiations, and Isabella's change of heart was enough to 
enable the revival of the scheme. When Columbus arrived at Court he 
again had to face interrogation by experts, but the indications are that 
this time he convinced them, not necessarily that he was right in his 
estimate of the distance to be sailed, but at least that the odds against 
success were sufficiently mitigated by the small scale of the proposed 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

investment. He then lost the advantage he had gained, and was again 
rejected, because of the extent of his demands for personal reward. He 
requested not only ships, crews and stores, but also elevation to the 
nobility; appointment as Admiral of the Ocean Sea and as Viceroy and 
Governor of the lands he might discover; the right to appoint 
administrators and justices there; control of the selection of justices 
dealing with oriental trade in the ports of Spain; and a tenth of 
everything bought, bartered for, or produced in the area of his 
Admiralty. He also demanded an eighth of everything he brought 
home, on condition that he would pay one eighth of the expenses of 
the voyage. It would have been witless to make these huge demands 
while still seeking to convince Isabella and her experts that the project 
was viable. Columbus probably brought up the matter of his rewards 
only after his basic proposal had been accepted. He was turned away 
again, this time without the hope of reconsideration in the future. 

He left Santa Fe for Cordoba at the beginning of January 1492, 
resolved once more to offer his plan to France. Again he was saved by 
a supporter close to Isabella. The Aragonese courtier Luis de Santangel 
went to the Queen on the day Columbus left, and pleaded with her to 
reconsider. He pointed out in eloquent terms the possible gains and 
the fact that, though Columbus's demands were high, they were 
dependent on his discovering somewhere, and whatever he might 
then gain would be dwarfed by the benefits to the Crown. According 
to both Fernando and Las Casas Isabella was moved by his appeal, so 
much so that she proposed to pawn her own jewels to meet the initial 
costs, a suggestion to which Santangel responded by offering to fulfil 
his desire to serve her by providing the money himself. An official was 
sent after Columbus, caught up with him at Puente de Pinos, only a 
few miles from Granada, and brought him back to the Court. In the 
ensuing weeks the secretary Juan de Coloma drew up the documents 
of the agreement, including the capitulaciones in which Columbus's 
rewards are stated, and the conditional granting of his titles. The King 
and Queen also gave him a general letter of introduction to foreign 
rulers and a passport. Decrees were issued suspending criminal 
proceedings against men who signed for the voyage, ordering the 
towns of Andalusia to afford Columbus every facility and prohibiting 
the taxing of provisions and stores purchased by him. 24 

There is no evidence that the Queen's grand gesture was called on, 
or indeed that it was necessary. The Moorish capital had fallen by 
now, and if Isabella ever did have the idea of pawning her jewels it is 
unlikely that she would continue to contemplate so theatrical a course 
after regaining the kingdom of Granada, with its huge potential for 
both plunder and revenue-raising. Columbus's own contribution to 
the costs of the voyage was almost certainly made with borrowed 



money. The total outlay was about two million maravedis, and 
Columbus had to find a quarter of a million, a fair sum. An able 
seaman's wages on the voyage were a thousand maravedis a month, a 
master's two thousand. Columbus had plenty of aristocratic and 
commercial contacts who would be interested in the investment, 
some dating back to his days in Genoa or as an agent in Madeira, 25 
some more recent such as the Duke of Medinaceli, or Santangel. In 
later life he expressed a generalized goodwill towards the Bank of St 
George in Genoa, 26 but from considerations of time arising from his 
wish to sail before the end of the summer the likelihood is that he 
applied to Spanish sources to make up his contribution. 

He left Granada on 12 May 1492 and went to Palos. He had several 
possible reasons for choosing Palos as his point of departure: the link 
with La Rabida was one; another, according to Las Casas, 27 was that he 
had acquaintances in the seafaring community there, though this is 
denied by others. The town was also handily placed for departure for the 
Canaries, the first stage of his planned route. However, the decisive 
reason was that the Crown was providing the bulk of the finance, 28 and 
the town of Palos, for some reason of civic debt or default, owed the 
Crown the services of two vessels for three months. 29 

Columbus arrived in Palos in the middle of May, 30 and sailed on 3 
August- a period of say eleven weeks. This is not a long time in which 
to assemble, equip and crew a modest fleet. Two of the ships were to 
be made available by the town, but it is unlikely that they were being 
held idle in good trading weather in readiness for the Crown's 
anticipated demands, or that their sails and rigging were in a prime 
state to sail around the world. The third vessel, the Santa Maria, was 
the subject of a separate, commercial negotiation. It is equally unlikely 
that the able seamen of Palos, even those who eventually went on the 
voyage, were lined up on the quays awaiting employment. Some of 
the crew were absent when the advance pay was handed out on 23 July 
(see Appendix n). Columbus may have done some of the organizing 
from a distance before arriving in Palos in mid-May, but there is no 
evidence of it. 

Indeed, there is evidence to the contrary, but it is tainted. In the 
pleitos (see Appendix i) some of the questions put by the Procurator 
Fiscal of the Crown were phrased to present a picture of Columbus 
arriving in Palos as a stranger, an outsider entering a tightly knit 
community of families and circles of friends, in which he made no 
headway for two frustrating months until a rich seafaring family, the 
Pinzons, decided to help him with money and influence and to 
participate in the venture themselves. Witnesses in the pleitos testify 
that it was only through the influence of this family that men were 
persuaded to sign on. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

The Pinzon brothers certainly were experienced sailors; that much 
is proved by their appointment to officers' posts in the fleet, Martin 
Alonso and Francisco Martin as captain and master respectively of the 
Pinta, and Vicente Yanez as master of the Nina. Several witnesses 
testified to their wealth, especially that of Martin Alonso. Their role 
in recruiting crewmen is indisputable; the payroll reveals that when 
the advance wages were given out Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez 
received the pay of several absent sailors and stood as guarantors for 
others. At the time of the pleitos, wishing to undermine the claims of 
Diego Columbus, the Crown tried to build a larger role for the 
Pinzons, crediting Martin Alonso not only with a literate background 
and a vision equal to that of Columbus, but also with having done 
archival research in the Pope's library and possessing ancient quasi- 
scriptural evidence of a western sea route to the orient. There was also 
an attempt to make out that Columbus had agreed to cede some of his 
rewards under the terms of the capituladones to Martin Alonso in 
return for financial and general help. Unfortunately for the Crown's 
credibility, the witnesses supporting its case provided mainly hearsay 
evidence, with the contradictions which one might expect from 
middle-aged or elderly men recalling events after over twenty years. 
The exception, verbose and suspiciously precise, is the person who 
stood to gain most from the success of die Crown case: Arias Perez, 
the son of Martin Alonso Pinzon. 

As Las Casas points out, it would have been odd if the Pinzons had 
come to any kind of formal agreement about the sharing of rewards so 
large on the basis of a mere handshake, but there was no reference to 
legal documentation at the time of the pleitos or at any other time. 
Moreover Las Casas, who is admittedly heartily pro-Columbus and 
who criticizes Martin Alonso for his disloyalties on the voyage, 
points out that if an agreement had been made Pinzon's heirs would 
surely have brought a case against Columbus themselves. Martin 
Alonso died shortly after the return to Spain, but Las Casas knew 
Vicente Yanez, who lived a long and creditable life afterwards and 
never gave any hint of such an agreement; nor did anyone else until the 
pleitos began. 

Still, no doubt Columbus had his difficulties in Palos; there was 
probably resentment about the obligation to furnish two ships, and a 
distrust of this foreign incomer who appeared to be the Crown's agent 
in the requisition. Obviously the Crown would not allow the town to 
palm off* a couple of decaying hulks, and the Nina, certainly, was a 
well found ship. Whether Columbus had to select the ships, or 
whether they were chosen by some internal civic debate, there was 
bound to be resentment in some quarters. In his early entries in the 
Journal he mentions difficulties with the fitting out of the ships, and 



blames the Pinta's faulty rudder on disgruntled shipwrights in Palos. 
We cannot tell whether the owners of the Pinta and the Nina thought 
they had drawn the long or the short straw; whether Cristobal 
Quintero and Juan Nino sailed on their own vessels as enthusiastic 
participants in a great enterprise, or because they thought that if the 
basis of their livelihood was to sail away towards the setting sun on 
this mad royal mission they might as well be aboard, where they could 
at least exert some moderating influence. Columbus had differences 
with Quintero in the fitting out period, and saw him as an unwilling 
and even treacherous participant (see the entry for 6 August). 

The Pinzons were an experienced, prosperous family with con- 
siderable local status and power of maritime patronage; exactly the 
kind of men whom anyone in Columbus's situation would approach 
at the earliest opportunity if he had any sense. Columbus had plenty 
of sense, and whatever the rights and wrongs of Martin Alonso's 
behaviour in the Caribbean and the later claims about the inspiration 
and financing of the voyage, the Pinzons' role in the summer of 1492 
was crucially helpful. 31 


Vessels Well Suited 

I left the city of Granada on Saturday, 12 May 1492, and 
travelled to the port of Palos, where I prepared three vessels 
well suited for such an enterprise. I left that port, amply 
furnished with provisions and well crewed with seafaring 
men, on Friday, 3 August, sailing for Your Majesties' 
Canary Islands in the Ocean Sea, intending to set my course 
from there and to sail until I reach the Indies. 

The many paintings, reconstructions and models of Columbus's ships 
are as speculative as the portraits of the man. There are no authentic 
contemporary plans or paintings of them, and neither Columbus nor 
anyone else goes into any detail about their size and tonnage. The 
bases for our speculation include the remains of mediaeval vessels 
revealed by archaeology; altarpieces depicting saints whose miracles 
or martyrdom took place in a maritime environment; manuscript 
miniatures, some by artists who were masters of their delicate 
medium but had scant knowledge of hull construction and rigging; 
and early woodcuts. The technical limitations of the woodcut cause 
the artists to simplify, so that details of rigging are often omitted. 
There is dispute, for example, as to whether vessels of the period had 
ratlines (the cross-ropes on the shrouds which provided a kind of fixed 
rope-ladder to allow the crew to climb the mast). They are often 
omitted from woodcuts, some of which nevertheless show sailors in 
postures which are only explicable if they had ratlines. 

The models hung in churches as votive offerings are another source 
of information. These, though rare and usually incomplete, provide 
authentic constructional details. By putting all these together, with a 
dash of cautiously applied sixteenth-century material, one can reach 



reasonably firm opinions on fifteenth-century hull structure and 
rigging. Columbus often mentions the setting or taking in of specific 
sails on the Santa Maria and the Nina, and at one point, having told us 
that he set all his available canvas, gives us a list of the individual sails. 

As for hull dimensions, his references to the size of his vessels are 
not very helpful, but our knowledge of the crew numbers and their 
rough disposition in the three ships assists us towards educated 
guesses as to their tonnage. Our wonder at the enterprise and bravery 
of the era increases when the probability emerges that the largest of the 
three was probably no bigger than a middle-sized modern fishing 

Columbus 's statement about the suitability of his ships was written 
early in the voyage, in generally favourable wind and weather, and 
familiar waters. He later came to dislike the most famous of them, the 
Santa Maria, for her larger size and general unhandiness, and to love 
the smaller but sweetly handling Nina. Some writers allude to 
Columbus's three caravels, failing to observe a distinction made clear 
by the Admiral himself between the two carabelas, the Pinta and the 
Nina, and the nao, which is his only way of referring to the Santa 
Maria. He never mentions her name in the Journal, obviously feeling 
that la nao is sufficient indication. (After he has transferred to the Nina 
he refers to her similarly as la carabela, rather than by her name.) 

The difference between the nao and the carabela is partly of hull form 
and partly of rig. l Nao is a variation of nave, 'ship', and was probably 
used earlier in the Middle Ages in the same general sense of a sailing 
vessel larger than a boat, but in the fifteenth century it acquired the 
more specific meaning of a fair-sized cargo-carrying vessel of a certain 
shape and rig. The nao was constructed according to the dimensions 
summarized in the Spanish phrase as, dos, tres, *ace, two and three'. 
The ace was the breadth of the vessel, the keel length was twice the 
breadth, and the length overall was half as much again. This produced 
a stout vessel of large carrying capacity, with no great pretensions to 
speed. Her manoeuvrability was reduced and her progress retarded 
by high fore- and sterncastles, which caught the wind when it was on 
the beam or when the ship was close-hauled, so that she was always 
struggling to recover the leeway, or downwind movement, which 
this produced. 

In the late fifteenth century the tonnage of a nao was probably from 
about 100 to 600 tons. The evolution of the carrack, a generally larger 
vessel, is difficult to disentangle from that of the nao. Some writers 
allude to differences in stern construction as the distinguishing feature, 
but the factor of size and national semantic variation are possibly more 
important. Columbus evidently thinks of the carrack as larger than the 
nao: when he wishes to illustrate the depth of an anchorage, he tells us 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

that a carrack could lie there; when he needs an image to show the 
breadth of a harbour he tells us that carracks could tack about in it. The 
nao was a vessel of intermediate size, probably fulfilling the kind of 
unpretentious, workaday role played by the brig and the barquentine 
in the nineteenth century. 2 

By the fourteenth century, from a single mast amidships, bearing a 
single square sail, the rig of the nao had been developed by the addition 
of a mizzenmast with a lateen yard carrying a large triangular sail. The 
lateen, characteristic even now of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern 
vessels, must have improved the ship's handling characteristics 
considerably. Fourteenth-century depictions also show the rudder 
developed into its modern form, a great advance on the earlier steering 
oar, and a bowsprit, employed initially as a point of rigging only. In 
the fifteenth century we see further additions to the nao: a foremast 
with a square foresail; a sail set under the bowsprit, which must have 
further improved manoeuvrability; and eventually a rudimentary 
topsail set above the crow's nest on the mainmast. The topsail, which 
began as a small triangle tapering to its foot, soon became a square sail 
with its bottom corners spread towards the ends of the mainyard, 
before finally being divided horizontally into two as one of the most 
useful assets of the large nineteenth-century sailing ship. 

Columbus lists his full suit of sails as follows: 

On the mainmast, the papahigo or maincourse, to the bottom of which 
could be laced either one or two bonetas or bonnets. Adding a bonnet was the 
old equivalent of shaking out a reef; in storm conditions one removed the 
bonnets to shorten sail. 

On the main topmast (probably not yet a separate spar), the gavia or 

On the foremast, the square trinquete or forecourse. 

Below the bowsprit, the cebadera or spritsail. The Spanish name means 
'nosebag', which gives an idea of the sail's position below the bowsprit and 
the jut of the forecastle. 

On the mizzenmast, the mesana, a triangular lateen sail on a sloping yard. 

In favourable winds the sail of the ship's boat might also be set on the 

The carabela probably evolved later than the nao, though its origins are 
obscure. 3 The earliest reliable instance of the use of the word in 
Spanish is a 1434 document. There is a mention in a Portuguese legal 
manuscript as early as 1255, but this appears to be a reference to a small 
fishing boat. In 1587 Garcia de Palacio describes the carabela as 4 a long, 
narrow vessel with lateen sails', a definition probably already 
generally applicable at the time of Columbus. The authorities vary in 
estimating the size, from below 50 up to 200 tons, with a range of 
tonnage generally smaller than that of the nao, but overlapping with it. 



It was narrower and lighter than the nao, with no forecastle and 
normally no bowsprit. It was usually lateen-rigged, and contempo- 
rary drawings and paintings show vessels of similar hull form with 
one, two or three masts. 

The lateen rig enabled the caravel to sail much closer to the wind 
than the square-rigged nao. A spur to the development of the caravel 
was the Portuguese exploration of the Atlantic coast of Africa, and at 
some time before Columbus the lateen rig had been replaced in some 
caravels by a hybrid rig with a square sail on the foremast which gave 
them more speed in following winds. The caravel, in fact, was a 
versatile vessel whose rig could be altered to meet the demands of 
prevailing winds and specific voyages. The Nina was lateen-rigged 
when she left Palos, but with the steady following weather in the 
northeast trade winds Columbus saw that she would be improved by a 
square rig, and during the delay in the Canaries while the Pinta's faulty 
rudder was being repaired he took advantage of the opportunity to 
re-rig the Nina. 'We made her redonda, ' he wrote - literally, * we made 
her round', although redonda , 'round', actually means 'square-rigged' 
in a nautical context. Since the same operation was not necessary for 
the Pinta, the presumption is that she was already carrying square sails 
when she left Palos, We see the disadvantage of square-rigging a caravel 
on the homeward journey, when the Pinta has difficulties against the 
head winds (though the blame for this is ascribed by Columbus 
partially to Pinzon's failure to replace her faulty mizzenmast in the 
Indies). 4 

We have no exact information on the number of masts of the two 
caravels; the likelihood is that the Pinta, initially, and the Nina, after 
re-rigging, had three masts: the mizzen carrying a lateen sail, the 
foremast a square sail, and the mainmast probably a square sail or 
possibly another, larger lateen sail. The Nina certainly had a square 
mainsail as well as a square foresail on the homeward journey, for in 
his entry for 14 February Columbus writes of sailing with only the 
foresail set after taking in the mainsail, and on the following day he 
mentions putting a bonnet on the mainsail. 

It has been generally supposed that the Nina was smaller than the 
Pinta. Evidence for this is that she is normally listed after the Santa 
Maria and the Pinta by early historians, and that Martin Alonso 
Pinzon, captain of the Pinta, was senior to his brother Vicente Yanez, 
who captained the Nina. Her name, which means 'little girl', has 
probably reinforced the idea that she was the smallest of the three 
vessels. The most convincing evidence is that she had the smallest 
crew, though the crew lists are for the start of the voyage; it is 
conceivable that she needed fewer crew initially because of her lateen 
rig, and that crew numbers were adjusted between the three vessels in 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

the Canaries when she was converted. She is the only one of the three 
of which any indication of tonnage survives. Michele de Cuneo, who 
sailed in her on a later voyage (she was a very durable ship), said that 
she was around sixty tons, and she is known to have carried a cargo of 
fifty-one tons on a different voyage. 5 

The Nina's name is in fact irrelevant to her size, being only her 
nickname. Although it probably acquired an affectionate connotation, 
it was based on the name of the owner, Juan Nino. It was a common 
practice at the time for a ship to have two names, her 'registry' name, 
often that of a saint, and a nickname. The Garza, 'Heron', was named 
after her owner and master Francisco Garcia; the Gorda, 'Fat 
Woman', after her owner Andres Martin de la Gorda; and the 
Bachillera, 'Blue stocking', after her owner Gonzalo Bachiller. 6 The 
Nina's 'registry' name was Santa Clara, after the local patron of 
sailors, Santa Clara de Moguer, to whom her crew vowed a 
pilgrimage during the worst storm of the voyage. 

Pinta, too, rings like a nickname. It is a feminine adjective meaning 
'spotted' or 'piebald', but she may well have been owned previously 
by the Pinto family of Palos, although her owner at the time of the 
voyage was Cristobal Quintero. We do not know her official name. 
The Santa Maria was officially so named after being chosen for the 
voyage; she had previously been known as the Gallega, 'Galician'. 7 
This has given rise to the natural conclusion that she was built in 
Galicia, in northwestern Spain; Galicians, in particular, like this idea. 
It is quite possible, however, that she had been owned by a family 
called Gallego, which is a common enough surname in mediaeval 
Spain; there is a Rodrigo Gallego in her crew list. At the time of 
chartering she was owned by Juan de la Cosa, who sailed on her as 
second in command. Her old nickname probably continued to be used 
during the voyage, since the Basque contingent aboard her had 
probably been part of her former crew. 

Running free in the trade winds on the outward voyage, the Santa 
Maria presented no handling problems, though even then Columbus 
mentions the superior speed of the smaller caravels. Her unsuitability 
for the voyage was brought home to him as soon as he began the 
exploration of the islands. The larger vessel, with her deeper draught 
and generally heavier handling, was less suited than the caravels to 
picking her way through waters full of reefs and shoals, and the 
caravels, with their simpler sail plan and ability to sail closer to the 
wind, were much better able to cope with the many changes of wind 
and course involved in probing the coasts and inlets of the uncharted 
islands. Columbus criticizes Martin Alonso for his greed and 
insubordination in going off on his own in the Pinta, but a 
contributory factor may well have been Pinzon's exasperation at 



constantly having to shorten sail or heave-to to enable the Santa 
Maria to catch up with the sprightlier caravels. 

Columbus does complain about the deficiencies of the flagship, 
blaming the town of Palos for supplying an unsuitable vessel, but the 
criticism comes late in the voyage, after she has grounded and been 
lost through negligence for which the ultimate responsibility was his 
own. There is no way of knowing if a smaller vessel would have 
cleared the bank on which she grounded, but her loss had nothing to 
do with her handling qualities. The very fact that the helm had been 
handed over to one of the apprentice seamen suggests that she was a 
kindly enough vessel. When Columbus set sail from Palos, hoping to 
return laden with the rich offerings of the east, he was probably happy 
enough to have the broader hold of the Santa Maria beneath his feet, 
and to have his superior position as Admiral in command of the 
Pinzon brothers confirmed by the dignity of the largest vessel. 

The contrasting qualities of the three ships provided as good a little 
fleet as one might hope for to meet the demands of a voyage 
combining a long ocean passage with island exploration. One can 
suggest ways in which they could have been deployed more flexibly 
after the arrival in the Indies, perhaps using the Santa Maria as a base 
vessel and repository for stores, trading goods and things acquired, 
and the nimbler caravels, with their smaller draught, for exploring the 
coasts and harbours. Columbus *s ability to reorganize on this basis 
was constrained by growing mistrust, the position of the Pinzons as 
captains of vessels crewed largely by their fellow townsmen, and by 
the simple need for a small body of men in alien surroundings to stick 
together. His complaints about the Santa Maria ring very much like 
an attempt to shift some of the blame for her loss. 

The crew list for the expedition has been compiled from an 
incomplete payroll, supplemented from allusions to individuals in the 
Journal and other documentary sources. The most important of these 
are the records of the pleitos\ the witnesses include members of the 
crews, who sometimes mention shipmates in their testimonies (see 
Appendix i). Both Fernando Columbus and Las Casas say that the fleet 
had ninety men. Modern research, especially that of Alice Gould in 
the 19205 and sos, 8 suggests that the eighty-seven who have been 
identified were distributed, at least on departure, as follows: 

Santa Maria 

Admiral: Christopher Columbus 

Master: Juan de la Cosa (owner) 

Piloto: Peralonso Nino 

Marshal: Diego de Arana (or Harana) 

Secretary: Rodrigo de Escobedo 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Boatswain's mate: 
Able seamen: 

Grume tes: 

Admiral's steward: 
Admiral's page: 
Royal observer: 

Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia 

Maestre Juan Sanchez 


Domingo de Lequeitio 

Antonio de Cuellar 

Domingo Vizcaino (cooper) 

Lope (caulker) 

Juan de Medina (tailor) 

Diego Perez (painter) 

Alonso Clavijo 

Gonzalo Franco 

Pedro Izquierdo de Lepe 

Juan de Jerez 

Rodrigo de Jerez 

Juan Martinez de Azoque 

Juan de Moguer 

Juan de la Plaza 

Juan Ruiz de la Pena 

Bartolome de Torres 

Luis de Torres (interpreter) 

Bartolome Vives 

Crist6bal Caro (silversmith) 

Diego Bermudez 

Alonso Chocero 

Rodrigo Gallego 

Diego Leal 

Pedro de Lepe 

Jacomo el Rico (Genoese) 

Martin de Urtubia 

Andres de Yevenes 


Pedro de Terreros 

Pedro de Salcedo 

Pedro Gutierrez, Butler of the King's Table 








Martin Alonso Pinzon 

Francisco Martin Pinzon 

Crist6bal Garcia Sarmiento 

Juan Reynal 

Maestre Diego 

Juan Quintero de Algruta 



Able seamen: 


Captain's page: 

Anton Calabres 

Francisco Garcia Vallejo 

Alvaro Perez 

Gil Perez 

Diego Martin Pinzon 

Cristobal Quintero (owner) 

Sancho de Rama 

Gomez Rascon 

Juan Rodriguez Bermejo 

(possibly also called Rodrigo de Triana) 
Juan Verde de Triana 
Juan Vezano 
Pedro de Arcos 
Juan Arias 
Juan Cuadrado 
Fernando Medel 
Francisco Medel 
Alonso de Palos 
Pedro Tegero 
Garcia Fernandez 









Able seamen: 

Vicente Yanez Pinzon 
Juan Nino (owner) 
Sancho Ruiz de Gama 
Diego Lorenzo 
Maestre Alonso 
Bartolome Garcia 
Alonso de Morales 
Juan Arraez 
Pedro Arraez 
Ruy Garcia 
Rodrigo Monge 
Bartolome Roldan 
Juan Romero 
Pedro Sanchez de Montilla 
Pedro de ViUa 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Grumetes: Garcia Alonso 

Andres de Huelva 

Francisco de Huelva 

Francisco Nino 

Pedro de Soria 

Fernando de Triana 
Captain's page: Miguel de Soria 

The word grumete is sometimes translated as 'ship's boy', but 
'apprentice seaman' is probably nearer the mark. The proportion of 
able seamen to grumetes conforms closely, and in the Santa Maria's 
case exactly, to that recommended by Garcia de Palacio in his 
sixteenth-century Instruction ndutica. 9 He recommends a greater 
number of pages, however, equal to one-tenth of the number of the 
seamen, in addition to those serving the officers. 'Page' suggests 
duties rather grander than those specified by Garcia de Palacio: 
'Leaving aside those pages who serve the captain, master andpt'/ofo aft, 
who do whatever they are ordered, the others sweep the ship, set the 
table, serve the meals . . . make spunyarn ... say the service at 
nightfall and give the morning greeting, and perform other manual 
work, to leave the seamen and grumetes free to concentrate on working 
the ship.' 10 

Apart from the odd foreigner (Juan Arias, from Tavira in Portugal; 
one Genoese; perhaps a Calabrian, Anton Calabres; just possibly a 
Venetian, Juan Vezano), the crews were Spanish. Most were 
Andalusians, some from inland towns some distance away, such as 
Jerez, Montilla and Seville, but many from Palos or nearby places such 
as Huelva, Moguer and Lepe. There was a group of northerners, and 
specifically Basques, who had probably been part of the Santa Maria's 
crew when she arrived in Palos, but a high proportion of the rest had 
probably been known to each other as shipmates or neighbours for a 
long time. Close relatives among the seamen were not split up: the 
two Medel brothers both sailed on the Pinta, as did Gil Perez and his 
nephew Alvaro, and the two Quinteros; Juan Arraez went with his 
father on the Nina. 

At least one group of friends stuck together. Bartolome de Torres, 
in gaol for murder, had been rescued by his friends Alonso Clavijo, 
Pedro Izquierdo and Juan de Moguer. They were all pardoned under 
the terms of the Crown amnesty offered to anyone who signed on for 
the voyage, and all sailed together on the Santa Maria. They must 
have been old shipmates; all four were paid as able seamen, and at least 
two of them sailed on one of Columbus *s later voyages. 11 

At officer level, however, families were divided. In the great storm 
which separated the two caravels for good on the homeward passage, 



when the lanterns which were the last link between them had flickered 
and vanished in the howling night, only the Pinzons had their own 
fear worsened by ignorance of the fate of a brother. Even in the 
euphoria which followed the Nina's safe arrival in the Tagus, Vicente 
Ynez's heart must have been heavy after watching the Pinta vanish 
with not only his two brothers but an older cousin, Diego Martin 
Pinzon, aboard. The Nino brothers were split up initially, Peralonso 
zspiloto of the Santa Maria and his brothers sailing on the Nina, Juan as 
master and Francisco as grumete, but after the loss of the flagship 
Peralonso transferred, with Columbus, to the Nina. 12 

Those were the close relationships, but there may well have been 
cousins, brothers-in-law, and so on, especially among the men 
recruited in Palos with the help of the Pinzons and the Ninos. Pedro 
de Arcos, acting as a witness in the pleitos, said that 'Martin Alonso 
determined to go ... and he took many relatives with him, for this 
witness saw them go.' 13 

Considering the small dimensions of the vessels, and their simple 
rigs, one is struck by the size of the crews. The Santa Maria set five 
sails as a maximum; the Pinta probably only three; the Nina three, and 
originally possibly only two. A large Indian Ocean dhow for long- 
distance passages in the twentieth century, with a size and rig 
something like the Nina's, carries about a dozen men, sometimes 
fewer. 14 A mid-nineteenth-century three-masted sailing ship, before 
the invention of donkey engines and brace winches, carried a crew of 
only about fifty, in times of cheap labour, to handle her two dozen 
sails. The Challenge, completed in New York in 1851, the largest 
clipper ship built up to that date, had a mainmast 230 feet high and 
would have dwarfed the Santa Maria if set alongside her. She had 
fifty-six seamen and eight boys when she sailed on her maiden 
voyage. 15 

The largest full-rigged sailing vessel ever built, the Preussen, 433 
feet long, had five masts over 200 feet high, and a full spread of canvas 
totalling some 60,000 square feet, divided into over forty-five sails. 
Always hard driven, she sailed repeatedly from Hamburg around 
Cape Horn to Iquique in the early years of this century, returning with 
8,000 tons of nitrate. In the most demanding waters on earth, she 
needed a full complement of only forty-seven officers and men. Her 
sister ship, the slightly smaller Potosi, had only twenty able seamen 
and a total complement of forty-one. 16 The Pinta or the Nina could 
have sheltered from the rain under the Preussen's or Potosi's mainsail, 
yet they had crews of at least twenty-six and twenty-two. 

Even allowing for division into watches, the ere wing of 
Columbus's expedition seems generous. It may have been an 
insurance against sickness or disaster. The Admiral comments on the 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

good health of the crew in the Indies, which may indicate that losses 
due to sickness were normally to be expected. When he has to work 
the ship with only half a crew, however, after the rest have been 
detained in the Azores by the Portuguese, he complains that he has 
only three men left who know anything about sailing. This may 
indicate that, despite his initial blithe statement on leaving Palos that 
his ships are crewed by experienced seafarers, some of the men were 
enlisted with a view to other purposes such as defence or, eventually, 
portering and labouring, and were listed zsgrumetes because they were 
on the same wages as the apprentice seamen. 

There are other puzzles; he mentions leaving behind in the fort of 
Navidad with the men who formed the first settlement 17 a lombardier 
cum engineer, but no such function is mentioned in the crew list. Were 
the seamen who are listed as having another trade such as tailor, 
painter or cooper really sailors at all, or simply landsmen on able 
seamen's pay rates? It seems likely, certainly, that the grumete 
Cristobal Caro, a silversmith, was enlisted specially for his skills in 
assessing and working the precious metals which Columbus expected 
to find, and that he was rated with the apprentice seamen for purposes 
of pay. 

In his Instruction ndutica Garcia de Palacio stipulates that a ship of 
five hundred to seven hundred tons needs fifty able seamen, one of 
three to five hundred needs thirty-five, and one of one to three 
hundred needs twenty (these figures do not include thzgrumetes, who 
should number two-thirds of the figure for the able seamen). By these 
standards, Columbus's vessels were not over-crewed, although by 
Garcia de Palacio's time rigging had grown somewhat more com- 
plex. In the payroll for the fourth voyage, in 1502, a greater range of 
specific trades is mentioned: as well as the able seamen and grumetes 
Columbus's flagship had a lombardier, two trumpeters and four 
escuderos (roughly equivalent to marines), all paid the same wages as 
the able seamen; a caulker, paid 50 per cent more; and a carpenter, 
whose pay was in between the two rates. 18 

The three surgeons named in the crew lists, unlike those of modern 
naval vessels, were not really of officer status. They had an easy time 
of it during the voyage, if we can take literally Columbus's statement 
that no member of the crews suffered a day's illness except one old 
man with the stone. Unfortunately only two of them came home, and 
maestreju&n Sanchez, who was left in the Indies, may well have had to 
perform some stern work with small resources before he, like the rest 
of the tiny garrison, succumbed to the clubs and arrows of the Indians. 

To understand the responsibilities of the various officers we may 
turn again to Garcia de Palacio. The Instruction ndutica was written 
when the demands of long ocean voyages had brought about a few 



technical advances. However, the author's detailed definitions of the 
roles of the various officers not only have every appearance of being 
rooted in tradition, but also reproduce the terminology of rank used 
by Columbus, and are probably valid for the period of the voyage. 

For us, 'master' and 'captain' are synonymous. The Pinzon 
brothers, Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez, are captains, capitanes, of 
the Pinta and the Nina respectively. Yet each ship also has a master, 
maestro: Juan Nino, the Nina's owner, is her master, and the third 
Pinzon brother, Francisco Martin, is master of the Pinta, despite the 
presence on board of the ship's owner, Cristobal Quintero. The Santa 
Maria has no captain, since Columbus, as Admiral, exercises the 
duties of captain, but she too has a master, Juan de la Cosa, who is also 
her owner. Garcia de Palacio makes a clear distinction between the 
captain and the master, describing their roles in different chapters. 

He describes the captain in rather vague terms, stressing the 
importance of moral and religious leadership, the management of men 
and the fair dispensing of justice and punishment. His most specific 
statement concerning the captain, that he should leave all navigational 
matters to subordinates, is not in accord with Columbus's own 
practice. The master, according to Garcia de Palacio, should be able in 
business and knowledgeable about goods, take responsibility for the 
stowing and unloading of cargo and the purchase of stores, and keep 
good accounts. He should also be an experienced seafarer, a qualifica- 
tion apparently not essential in a captain. 

Each vessel also carries a^f/oto; not a pilot, in the modern sense, but 
a watch-keeping officer with special responsibility for navigation, 
attached to a single ship. In modern Spanish, piloto can mean 'mate'. 
Garcia de Palacio places this officer third in the hierarchy of 
command, but he goes into much more detail on his role, stressing the 
importance of a craft on which the whole enterprise and safety of the 
vessel depend, and criticizing the low standards of some navigators. 
He includes in the list of the piloto's necessities a chart, dividers, a 
twelve-pound astrolabe, a wooden quadrant, compasses, Venetian 
hourglasses, a lantern with cotton wicks, and a loo-fathom lead line. 

Ideally the piloto should know astronomy, mathematics and 
cosmography, but failing this he must certainly be able to take sights 
with the astrolabe and quadrant. He should know about tides and the 
phases of the moon, be skilled in taking soundings, be experienced in 
the use of charts, and so on. Despite the specialized nature of the art, 
Garcia de Palacio recommends that the piloto seek the opinions of his 
master and captain (so contradicting what he has written earlier) and 
even of the senior seamen. A mid-sixteenth-century passenger 
describes this consultational method of navigation with the distressed 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

incredulity of a landsman used to signposts, milestones, a solid road 
under his feet and an inn around the bend: 

What a display of God's omnipotence, to place this subtle and crucial art of 
seafaring in the clumsy brains and hands of these navigators! You should see 
them consulting each other: 'How many degrees do you make it?' 'Sixteen,' 
says one. 'Thirteen and a half,' says another. Then, 'How far do you make it 
to land?' 'Forty leagues,' says one. 'A hundred and fifty,' says another. 'I 
made it ninety-two this morning, ' says a third. If they were three or three 
hundred, no two of them would agree with each other. 19 

This consensus policy was apparently normal on Columbus's ships. 
As well as navigating himself, the Admiral often mentions consulta- 
tions with the pilotos, and evidently the more experienced seamen 
were allowed to contribute to these. Bartolome Roldan, in particular, 
though a mere able seaman on the Nina, marked off the course on his 
own chart, and Columbus gives Roldan's reckoning equal importance 
with those of his superiors. 

A major puzzle is how Columbus could expect to deceive such an 
experienced and able group of mariners about the daily distance run by 
the ships. That he did so at least partially is evident from his accounts 
of the different conclusions about the ships' position reached by the 
various navigators, and his statement that the discrepancy was due to 
his practice of giving them a reduced figure for the daily run in order to 
avoid discontent among the crews about their distance from home. It 
is not as if he alone were in possession of a mechanical device for 
recording speed; the ship's log had not yet been invented, and 
assessing speed was a matter of *feeF and perhaps observing the rate at 
which the ship passed a piece of timber thrown from the bows. 
Columbus had great experience, but then so had the Pinzons and Juan 
de la Cosa, and some of the senior seamen had probably been at sea 
longer than any of the officers. It is hard to believe that none of them 
smelled a rat; if they did, Columbus's attempt to reassure by deception 
was probably self-defeating, contributing to the mutinous feelings 
and to the evident alienation of the Pinzons. 


Shipboard Life and 

Despite their low status and wages, the pages mentioned in the 
previous chapter played a crucial part in the most fundamental aspect 
of the ship's routine and progress: timekeeping. In a Spanish vessel 
the day began with a page's voice chanting a conventional rhymed 

Bendita sea la luz 

y la Santa Cruz; 
y el Senor de la Verdad 

y la Santa Trinidad; 
Bendita sea el alma 

y el Senor que nos la manda; 
Bendito sea el dia 

y el Senor que nos la envia. 

Blessed be the light 

and the Holy Cross; 
Blessed be the Lord of Truth 

and the Holy Trinity; 
Blessed be the soul 

and the Lord who tends it; 
Blessed be this day, 

and the Lord who sends it. 

These are the lines which woke Eugenio de Salazar, who wrote a 
pained but witty description of life as a passenger on a vessel sailing 
from Tenerife to Hispaniola in the middle of the sixteenth century. 1 
They set the tone for a routine pervaded by naive religious 
observance, and were followed by the Lord's Prayer, the Ave Maria 
and a more specifically nautical blessing: 'May God give us a fair day 
and a good voyage; may the vessel make a swift passage, with her 
captain, master and fine ship's company. God give her a good voyage, 
and God give you a good day, gentlemen, from stem to stern.' 

The pages not only got the daily routine underway at the change 
of the watch; they were responsible for turning the ampolletas, the 
sandglasses which were the principal means of timekeeping, and on 
cloudy days and nights, the only means. The sand ran for half an hour; 


The Voyage oj Christopher (Jolumbus 

eight glasses made up a four-hour watch. The glass was also a basic 
tool of the navigator; Columbus refers repeatedly to the distance run 
in a specific number of glasses, or the number of glasses throughout 
which the ship maintained a particular speed. 

At nightfall a page was the protagonist in another little piece of 
religious theatre: bringing the light to the compass binnacle, he 
chanted: 'Amen, and God give us a fair night. May the ship make a 
swift passage and a good voyage, captain and master and good ship's 
company.' In Salazar's ship two pages then recited the Lord's Prayer, 
the Ave Maria, the Creed and the Salve Regina, and went off to watch 
the sandglass through the dark hours, starting the night with yet 
another blessing: 

Bendita la hora en que Dios nacio, Blessed be the hour of God's birth. 

Santa Maria que lepario, Blessed be the Virgin who bore him. 

San Juan que le bautizo. Blessed be St John who baptized him. 

La guarda es tomada; The watch is changed; 

la ampolleta muele. The glass is running. 

Buen viaje haremos We will have a fair voyage 

si Dios quisiere. By the grace of God. 

The nightfall ceremony may have been less elaborate than this on 
Columbus's ships, but it certainly took place. He calls it simply the 
Salve ('which all sailors sing or say'). It may therefore have consisted 
solely of the Salve Regina, although the single word may have come to 
embrace the whole, extended ceremony. Practice probably varied 
from ship to ship, depending on the piety of the captain, and from day 
to day, depending on the weather. Salazar describes a much more 
elaborate service, with a sung litany, an altar, candles and images, 
conducted by the master every Saturday evening, with the pages 
acting as altar boys. 

In a small vessel one had to be a sound sleeper; as well as the absence 
of anything approximating to a bed, the off-duty watch had to 
contend with another ditty from the page every half-hour. The main 
aim of this was to check that the for'ard lookout was awake. When the 
first glass ran out, for instance, the page sang out: 

Buena es la que va, A good one gone, 

mejor es la que viene; a better to come; 

una es pasada The first is over, 

y en dos muele. the second to run. 

Mas molerd, More to follow 

51 Dios quisiere. if God is willing. 

Cuenta y pasa t It counts and it's done; 

que buen viaje faza. may she make a good run. 

Ah deproa, alerta, Bows, there! Wide awake! 

buena guardial Keep your eyes peeled! 



At midnight the page had to wake the new watch, shouting 'Watch! 
Watch! You gentlemen sailors of thepiloto's watch; now is the time; 
rouse yourselves, rouse!' 

Being woken at midnight was only one source of distress for 
Eugenio de Salazar, whose letter depicts the Atlantic crossing as 
multifaceted and rarely abating misery: seasickness; the monotony of 
empty horizons; the discomfort of confined quarters; the stench of 
vomit and bilge water; the incessant noise of the pumps; cockroaches 
like flocks of poultry; mice as big as wild boar; lice which vomited 
undigested lumps of cabin boy; the ship black on the outside and 
blacker within; dirt on every surface; black walls, black decks, 
unwashed officers and filthy crew. 

The food is another target of his complaints: dirty tablecloths, on 
which the pages piled heaps of broken biscuit 'so white and clean that 
cloth and biscuit together look like a wheatfield with piles of dung on 
it'; boiled ox bones with a few shreds of meat adhering; on Fridays and 
feast days, boiled beans; bad water, doled out by the ounce, like 
medicine. There is another piece of polite ceremonial from the pages: 

Tabla, tabla, Table, table, 

senor capitdn y maestre captain, master 

y buena compana. and good men of the crew. 

Tabla puesta, Table is set; 

vianda p resta . food is ready . 

. . . Viv a, viva Long life and health 

el Rey de Castilla! to the King of Spain! 

Por mar y por tierra, On land and sea, 

quien le diereguerra whoever fights him, 

que le corten la cabeza! may he lose his head! 

Quien no dijere Amen, If you won't say Amen, 

que no le den a beber. you'll go without drink. 

Tabla en buena hora; Welcome to table; 

quien no viniere que no coma. Come, or do without. 

Then the crew fell on the food like dogs, with farting, belching and 
puking on all sides. For the relief of the bowels there was a seat 
suspended over the side of a lurching ship. Sailing, concludes Salazar, 
is as evil a necessity as women. The land was made for men; the sea for 
the fish. 

It is to be hoped that the provisioning of Columbus 's ships 
approached the more liberal scale proposed by Garcia de Palacio: 

A master should provide stores of food in excess of what is normally 
necessary for the voyage facing him, but if we must specify exact quantities 
he should provide one and two-thirds pounds of bread, three-quarters of a 
litre of wine, and a litre of water per person per day. For every thirty men 
there should be half a bushel of chickpeas or beans. As for meat, fish, oil, 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

vinegar and other items, the more and the higher the quality the better, for if a 
master treats his crew well they will be strong, fit and merry, and will take 
pains to respond with due service and hard work. 

Salazar was travelling on a fair-sized, passenger-carrying vessel. The 
amenities must have been even fewer on Columbus's little ships. 
Apart from some minimal privacy enjoyed by the officers, the ships' 
companies must have had a comfortless, cheek-by-jowl existence in 
which discontent and distrust arose and simmered easily, and which 
made the scent of land, the spacious woods and the water and fresh 
food of the Indies seem even more delicious. 

Salazar's misgivings about the efficiency of navigators would have 
found little relief if he had sailed with Columbus. The Admiral's 
technical aids were few, and the most sophisticated among them 
turned out to be largely useless and in one or two cases grossly 
misleading. Fifteenth-century sailors had at their disposal charts of 
varying reliability, necessarily speculative in their representation of 
distant waters; the sandglass for time-keeping, subject to inaccuracies 
due to careless or dozing pages who missed the moment at which it ran 
out; the mariner's compass, though precise details of the relationship 
between the needle, true north, magnetic north and the Pole Star were 
beyond the average navigator; some knowledge of the celestial bodies, 
especially of the stars known as the Guards and their rotation around 
the Pole Star; and two instruments capable of taking an accurate 
reading of the altitude of a star or the sun: the quadrant, usually of 
wood, and the heavy brass astrolabe. 

Columbus probably had reasonably reliable small-scale charts of 
the coasts of the Iberian peninsula, the Canaries and the Azores. He 
and his brother Bartholomew had probably produced and sold such 
charts themselves. We know that he had a speculative chart extending 
into the west Atlantic, possibly that supplied by Toscanelli, or based 
on it, and possibly reaching as far as Japan and the Chinese mainland. 
A fifteenth-century chart was a picturesque affair, often including 
not only depictions of vessels in full sail, sea monsters and distant 
potentates, but also, more practically, finely executed wind roses 
similar to modern compass cards. From the points of these emerged 
rhumb lines, so that the chart was criss-crossed by a network of lines 
representing the basic range of courses, or compass bearings, and 
making it simple to work out the course from one known point to 

The quadrant and astrolabe were both used for finding latitude by 
measuring the elevation of the sun or the Pole Star above the horizon. 
If the Pole Star was used the procedure was simple; if the sun, being 
apparently mobile, was used a mathematical formula was involved. 



The quadrant was a primitive device in the form of a quarter-circle 
with two sights along one of the straight edges, a weighted cord 
suspended from the right angle and a graduated scale of degrees 
around the arc. The navigator aligned the sights on the celestial body, 
nipped the cord against the face of the scale and read off the number of 
degrees, or, in early examples, the name of a port on a specific latitude. 

The astrolabe was a heavy brass dial hanging from a metal ring. It 
had a scale of degrees near its circumference, and an arm with a sight- 
hole at each end was pivoted in the centre of the face. One aligned the 
two holes on the star or the sun, either by looking through them or by 
letting the sunlight pass through the upper hole and adjusting the arm 
so that the beam continued through the lower one, and read off the 
degrees indicated by a pointer on the arm. Both instruments were easy 
to use on terra jirma, but on a heaving deck it was difficult to take a 
reliable reading with either, and both needed a clear sky. 

That unhappy voyager, Eugenio de Salazar, gives a disturbing 
description of the difficulties undergone by the navigators to whom he 
has entrusted his life and family: 

You should see thtpiloto . . . taking up his astrolabe at midday, looking up at 
the sun and trying to make it shine through the holes in his instrument, and 
failing, and trying to adjust it. He fmaUy pronounces judgement on the 
altitude of the sun; sometimes he has it 1,000 degrees too high, sometimes he 
is so far below it that it would take him 1,000 years to reach it. The most 
tiresome thing was their secrecy with the passengers about the readings and 
about the distance run by the ship, though later I understood the reason: they 
know that they never get it right. I kept my patience, for I realized they did 
well not to display the results of their inaccuracy; they take the altitude with a 
degree of give and take, and the width of a pinhead on their instrument will 
put you 500 miles out in your reckoning. 3 

Columbus has no great skill with either of these instruments. He 
produces some wildly erroneous readings of latitude, sometimes 
acknowledging their improbability, and finally says that he is hanging 
up his quadrant until he reaches port again and can have it seen to. It is 
difficult to see what could go amiss with a quadrant, other than a 
broken cord; if it was made right it stayed right. It is hard to believe 
that such an experienced sailor could have taken a sight on the wrong 
star, but this seems to be the only possible explanation of his reading 
on 21 November. His sighting of the star gave a latitude of 42N, 
which, as Las Casas points out, would suggest that the ships were in 
the latitude of the Florida coast. 

In Columbus's day a knowledge of astronomy was useful for more 
than direction-finding and calculation of latitude. At night, given a 
clear sky, one could tell the time by the position of the stars known as 
the Guards in their anti-clockwise rotation around the Pole Star. This 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

position is expressed in terms of an imaginary human figure with the 
Pole Star at his navel and his forearms extended sideways, giving four 
positions, and diagonal lines giving four intermediate positions. The 
Guards could be, for instance, at the arm on the west, or at the foot, or 
at the line below the arm on the east. Each eighth of a circle 
represented three hours. The Journal entry for 30 September reads: 'At 
nightfall the stars called the Guards are close to the arm on the west 
side, and at dawn they are on the line below the northeastern arm, so it 
appears that in the whole night they move only three lines, or nine 
hours. This is so every night.' 

Longitude was calculated by dead reckoning, which accounts for 
the discrepancies between the positions calculated by the different 
navigators. Dead reckoning involves putting together the figures for 
the known course or courses and estimated speed or speeds over a 
given period of time, and so working out a position in relation to the 
previous point calculated and pricked off on the chart. Hacer punto, 
'making a point', is Columbus's phrase. On a long voyage the 
possibility for cumulative error on the part of a man not skilled in 
estimating speed and leeway was considerable, even when his superior 
was not deliberately supplying false information. Unknown currents 
in strange waters were another factor contributing to inaccurate 
reckonings. All in all, the lookout in the bows and the page who kept 
him awake bore a heavy weight of responsibility, even when the 
landfall sought was on a familiar coast. 

On days when he made many changes of course Columbus may 
well have simplified his calculations by using an old device called a 
traverse board, which had a face like a wind rose with lines of holes 
radiating along each point. A peg was put in the relevant point with 
each turn of the sandglass, and at the end of the day, by relating the 
ship's speed and the number and distribution of the pegs to a table, one 
achieved a new reading of miles of latitude and longitude which 
enabled one to mark a new position on the chart. 

Columbus gives distances in millas and leguas> miles and leagues, 
and speeds in miles per hour. It has generally been supposed that for 
him milla means the old Roman mile of 4,850 feet, 4 such miles 
making up a league. A modern nautical mile is 6,080 feet, and there is 
no such thing as a modern league. On this basis Columbus's league 
equals 3.18 nautical miles. In my translation I have converted his 
distances in millas to nautical miles, expressed leagues as equal to 3 
nautical miles, rounding off to the nearest quarter or third, and given 
speeds in knots to avoid the landlubberly 'miles per hour'. A knot is a 
unit of speed, not distance; a vessel sailing at 5 knots runs 5 nautical 
miles in one hour. 

It has lately been argued 4 that Columbus's mile was equal to only 



about five-sixths of the Roman mile, and that his league was therefore 
a shorter one than that used by Iberian sailors. This, it is claimed, 
explains the two different figures given by Columbus for each day's 
run, the higher being his own, the lower being a conversion to the 
Spanish measure for the mainly Spanish crew, and not, as has 
generally been supposed, a false figure given to the crew to assuage 
discontent. I find this unconvincing; Columbus's seafaring had been 
largely in Portuguese vessels, and it is hard to see why he should use 
Italian units in a Spanish ship and in an account written explicitly for 
the information of the Spanish Crown. A strong counter-argument is 
the simple fact that the reduction is not always in the same ratio: 
fourteen leagues reduced to eleven; fourteen reduced to thirteen; 
twenty-four reduced to twenty-one; twenty-five reduced to twenty; 
thirty-nine reduced to thirty; forty reduced to thirty-three; forty- 
seven reduced to forty; fifty-nine reduced to forty-four. These do not 
seem to be mathematically calculated conversions, but rather figures 
which Columbus thought he could get away with. Both Las Casas and 
Fernando state clearly that Columbus used the double reckoning as a 
way of maintaining the morale of the crew. 

The ships achieved highly creditable speeds in favourable condi- 
tions, the Pinta and the Nina being faster and handier than the Santa 
Maria. Vessels of the period could run cheerfully at six to eight knots, 
and on occasion at much higher speeds. Pedro de Medina wrote in 
1545 that the maximum speed of a sailing vessel was four leagues an 
hour, by which he probably meant twelve knots, and that two leagues 
an hour (six knots) was normal. Columbus's entries for the first week 
in October record some outstanding sailing, including a full day's run 
at an average of almost eight knots, and speeds of almost twelve knots 
at times during the night of 8 October. This last figure caused Las 
Casas to question the handwriting. Such a speed was rare even among 
the much more highly developed sailing ships of the nineteenth 
century, except in the tea and wool clippers and the great American 
vessels built for the San Francisco trade, whose design deliberately 
sacrificed carrying capacity for speed, and the fastest of which were 
liberally crewed to take advantage of their huge sail areas. 

Columbus chose to set sail west from the Canaries, but to return by 
a more northerly course. It is unlikely that this was a fortuitous 
decision; it was certainly the right one. His reasons for going via the 
Canaries may have included a wish to water and victual his ships at the 
last possible moment before leaving the known world, and a prudent 
thought for the possible need to set right unforeseen problems such as 
the Pinta's faulty rudder, but his main reason was probably his 
awareness of the prevailing winds. His voyages in the Guinea, 
Madeira and Iceland trades, and his conversations with the seafaring 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

men of the Azores and the Canaries, had clarified the basic factors in 
northern hemisphere sailing: the steady northeast trade winds which 
would take him westward from the latitude of the Canaries, and the 
stormier but generally reliable westerlies of the north Atlantic for his 
passage home. 


Restoring and 
Translating the Journal 

The shipboard Journal written by Christopher Columbus has long been 
lost. Parts of it, however, have survived, in Bartolome de las Casas's 
early sixteenth-century copy of the original. 1 Las Casas made rather a 
mess of it. Normally a polished if rather orotund writer, he turned the 
Journal into a syntactical hotch-potch, and it is unlikely that he thought 
of his version as a finished piece of work. Long passages, including the 
Prologue, the entries from 11-24 October, and considerable parts of 
other entries, reproduce Columbus's original prose verbatim and 
probably without substantial omissions. Elsewhere Las Casas alters 
Columbus's first-person entries ('We sailed ... I reckoned . . .*) to 
third-person narrative ('They sailed ... He reckoned ...'). 

Las Casas probably looked on his version of the Journal as a 
working document to help him in the composition of his Historia de las 
Indias. He was following a practice hallowed by time in mediaeval 
Spanish historiography, which habitually incorporated textual 
material, often originally from popular sources, in a way intended to 
imply omniscience while masking the fact that the historian was 
making life easy for himself. The result in the case of the Journal is a 
most uneasy amalgam, which has nevertheless been accepted as the 
best material available and translated straightforwardly by the authors 
of previous versions in English. The present translation is an attempt 
to come closer to the content of Columbus's original. 

The variation from first-person to third-person narrative is a jarring 
technique in itself, but the situation is not simply that some entries are 
in one and some in the other; the switch of mode often occurs within 
an entry, sometimes even within a sentence. Consider the following 
examples, literal translations from the Las Casas text: 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

The Admiral [i.e., Columbus] did not want to leave the river. Instead he gave 
orders to row to where the Indians were and there were many of them all 
dyed red and naked as they were born and some had plumes on their head 
and others feathers. They all had handfuls of assegais. I [i.e., Columbus] 
approached them and gave them a few mouthfuls of bread and I asked them 
for the assegais in exchange for a hawk bell or a little brass ring. (3 December) 

All this the Admiral understood with difficulty, but he was still sure that 
there was a great quantity of it in those parts, and that if he could find the 
source there was a great deal of it to be obtained and as he imagined for almost 
nothing. And he says again that there must be a lot, for in the three days that 
he had been in that harbour he had had good pieces of gold and he cannot 
believe that they bring it there from another land. May Our Lord in whose 
hands are all things see fit to guide me and give me whatever may serve Him. 
(23 December) 

It is evident that Las Casas's procedure, in some entries at least, 
involved little more than changing the verbs and pronouns to produce 
a third-person narrative. Sometimes it is almost as if we are looking 
over his shoulder: he copies a verb in the present tense, realizes his 
mistake, crosses it out, and rewrites it in the past tense. Sometimes his 
lapse is more prolonged and he simply goes on copying the first- 
person original verbatim, then becomes aware of the lapse and tries to 
retrieve the syntactical situation with an interpolation: 

And he says that he hopes in God that when he returns, as he intends [altered 
to 'intended'] from Spain he will [altered to 'he would'] find a barrel of gold 
which those he was going to leave behind would have obtained and they 
would have found the gold mine and the spices and everything in such 
quantity that the King and Queen within three years would undertake and 
organize themselves to go to conquer the Holy Sepulchre, for so (he says) I 
requested Your Majesties that all the wealth gained in this my enterprise 
should be spent on the conquest of Jerusalem and Your Majesties laughed and 
said that you agreed and that such was your intention in any case. These are 
the Admiral's words. (26 December) 

He said that on the previous Sunday, 1 1 November, he had thought it a good 
idea to seize some of the people from that river to take to the King and Queen, 
so that they might learn our language and tell us about their land and so that 
on their return they may be interpreters for the Christians and may adopt our 
customs and the matters of the Faith, for I saw and recognize (says the 
Admiral) that these people have no religion. (12 November) 

The impression that Las Casas is following Columbus's original 
closely, altering syntax rather than abbreviating, is reinforced by his 
frequent interpolation of dize, 'he says', in passages such as the 
following (notice again the anarchy of tense and the failure to alter 
ayer, 'yesterday'): 



He sailed three hours before dawn from the bay called the Golfo de las Flechas 
with a land breeze, then with a west wind he headed E by N, intending, he 
says, to go to the island of Carib where live the people whom all those islands 
and lands fear [altered to 'feared'] so much because, he says, they went about 
all those waters with innumerable canoes and he says that they ate the men 
they can catch. He had been informed of the course, he says, by some of those 
four Indians whom he captured yesterday. (16 January) 

There have been suggestions that in the third-person parts of his 
version Las Casas was summarizing. Various factors may be set 
against this. First, there is the evidence of word-for-word transfer in 
the above examples. Secondly, if one compares the length of the daily 
entries in the first-person and third-person narratives, there is no 
obvious discrepancy suggesting abbreviation in the latter mode. Some 
of the third-person entries for the outward voyage are admittedly 
short, but then there was nothing to record except course, weather, 
distance run and the occasional bird or floating object. We see a similar 
brevity in the first-person entries too, when Columbus has spent a 
whole day simply sailing; the entry for 18 October consists of a single 

Thirdly, we have the evidence of Fernando Columbus 's biography 
of his father. This was published in an Italian translation, 2 but even so 
it provides invaluable evidence, not only of the content of the original 
Journal, but also of the changes made by Las Casas. At certain points 
where the Las Casas version is in the third person, Fernando quotes the 
first-person narrative of his father's original. Compare the two in their 
accounts of the events of 18 December. Fernando is quoting directly 
from the original Journal. The corresponding Las Casas passage is 
turned into third-person narrative. It is evident that neither Las 
Casas's procedure nor that of the intervening scribe has involved 
notable abbreviation, either in the direct transcription in the first 
person or in the conversion to third-person narrative. One sentence 
has been moved forward in the Las Casas account, probably by 
carelessness; Fernando's order at this point is more logical. Having 
written the sentence in question (italicized), Las Casas realizes that he 
has skipped two sentences and includes them. For the purposes of this 
comparison I have made no attempt at beauty of style, but have 
adhered as far as possible to the sentence structure of the originals. 

Fernando Las Casas 

Without doubt it would be a great And the Admiral says to the King 

pleasure to Your Majesties to see and Queen, Tour Majesties would 

his dignity and the respect which doubtless have been pleased by his 

his people have for him, although dignity and the reverence in which 

they all go naked. He, as soon as he they all hold him, although they all 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

came into the ship and found that I 
was under the sterncastle where I 
was eating, came quickly to sit 
down beside me, without giving 
me time to go to meet him, or to 
rise from the table. And when he 
came in under the sterncastle he 
signalled to them all to stay 
outside, and so they did, with great 
alacrity and respect, all sitting 
down on the deck except two men 
of mature age, whom I judged to 
be his counsellors, who sat down at 
his feet. It was indicated that this 
was the cacique, and /, thinking that 
he should eat, ordered that food should 
be brought to him, what I had been 
eating myself, and so he took some 
of everything, just the amount one 
takes to sample. He sent the rest to 
his people, who all ate of it. The 
same thing happened with the 
drink; he only took it to his lips and 
then gave it to the others. And he 
did everything with a wonderful 
dignity, and said few words, and 
those which he said, as far as I 
could understand, were very 
weighty and serious. The two men 
watched the mouth of this king, 
and spoke for him, and with him. 

With great respect, when he had 
eaten, one of his gentlemen 
brought him a belt like those of 
Castile in its form, but of different 
craftsmanship, which he took in his 
hand and gave to me, with two 
pieces of gold, skilfully worked. Of 
this gold I think that they find little 
here, though I believe that this 
place is close to the one where it is 
found [dove nasce, literally * where it 
is born'], and there there is much of 

And, thinking that he would be 
pleased by a coverlet which was on 
my bed, I gave it to him, with a 
necklace of very beautiful amber 

go about naked. As soon as he 
came aboard he found me eating at 
table under the sterncastle, and he 
came quickly to sit beside me, not 
allowing me to go to meet him or 
rise from table, but wanting me to 
go on eating. I thought fie would like 
to eat some of our food, and ordered 
him to be Brought things to eat. And 
when he came in under the 
sterncastle he gave a sign with his 
hand to tell all his people to stay 
outside, and so they did with the 
greatest alacrity and respect in the 
world, and they all sat down on the 
deck, except two men of mature 
age who I thought must be his 
counsellors and tutor, who came 
and sat down at his feet. And of the 
foods which I put before him he 
took of each just the amount one 
takes to sample, and then he sent 
the rest to his people and they all 
ate of it, and he did the same with 
the drink; he just took it to his lips 
and then gave it to the others, all 
with a wonderful dignity and very 
few words, and those which he did 
say, as far as I could understand, 
were very intelligent and sensible, 
and those two men watched his 
mouth and spoke for him and with 
him and with great respect. 

When he had eaten a squire 
brought a belt which is made like 
those of Castile, but of a different 
workmanship, and he took it and 
gave it to me; also two pieces of 
worked gold, which were very 
thin, for I believe that here they get 
little of it, although I believe they 
are very near to where it is bom 
[nace] and there is a lot of it 1 saw 
that he was pleased by a coverlet 
which I had on my bed; 1 gave it to 
him, with some very fine amber 
beads which 1 had round my neck, 
and some red shoes, and a flask of 



beads which I was wearing round 
my neck, and a pair of red shoes 
and a bottle of orange blossom 
water, at which he was so pleased 
that it was amazing. And he and his 
counsellors showed great sorrow 
because they did not understand 
me, nor I them. However, I 
understood that they told me that, 
if I had need of anything, the whole 
island was at my command. 

Then I ordered to be brought a 
letter case of mine, on which as a 
token there is a gold medal of the 
weight of four ducats, on which are 
sculpted the images of Your 
Majesties, and I showed it to him, 
saying again that Your Majesties 
ruled the greater part of the world, 
and that you were very great 
princes. And I showed him the 
royal banners, and the one with the 
cross, which were greatly admired 
by him. Turning to his counsellors 
he said that without doubt Your 
Majesties were great rulers, because 
from so far away as the sky you 
had sent me here without fear. 
Many others things happened 
which I did not understand, 
although I could see that he showed 
great wonder at everything. But as 
it was now late and he wished to 
leave, I sent him ashore in the boat 
with great ceremony, having many 
lombard shots fired, and as soon as 
he landed he went off in his litter 
with more than two hundred men, 
and one of his sons was carried on 
the back of a distinguished man, 
and to all the sailors and people 
from the ships whom he met on the 
land he ordered food to be given, 
and commanded that great courtesy 
be paid them. 

Later a sailor who met them on 
the road told me that each of the 
things which I had given him were 

orange flower water, which pleased 
him so much that it was wonderful. 
He and his tutor and counsellors are 
very sad because they did not 
understand me, nor I them. 
However, I understood that he told 
me that if I need anything here all 
the island is mine to command. 

I sent for some beads 3 of mine on 
which as a token I have a gold 
excelente on which is engraved Your 
Majesties' portrait and I showed it 
to him, and told him again, as I did 
yesterday, that Your Majesties 
commanded and ruled the best part 
of the world and that there were no 
princes so great, and I showed him 
the royal banners and the others 
with the cross, which impressed 
him very much, and what great 
rulers Your Majesties must be, he 
said to his counsellors, since from 
so far away, from the sky, you had 
sent me here without fear, and 
many other things happened which 
1 did not understand, except that I 
could see he was amazed by 

When it grew late and he wanted 
to leave the Admiral sent him 
ashore in the boat with great 
ceremony, firing the lombards 
repeatedly. When he reached the 
shore he got into his litter and went 
off with all his men, over two 
hundred. His son was carried 
behind him on the shoulders of a 
distinguished Indian. Whenever he 
met sailors or others from the ships 
he ordered them to be given food 
and treated with honour. A sailor 
said that he saw him go past on the 
road and that all the things which 
the Admiral had given him were 
being carried ahead of him by one 
of his most important men. The 
son was some way behind the king, 
accompanied by just as many 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

people, and one of the king's 
brothers was some way back again, 
but he was on foot, supported by 
the arm by a distinguished Indian 
on either side. This brother came to 
the ship some time after the king, 
and the Admiral gave him some of 
the barter goods. 5 

being carried ahead of him by a 
very distinguished man, and that 
on the way his son did not travel 
with him, but some way behind, 
with just as many people following 
him, and with almost as many a 
brother of his was going on foot, 
held by two distinguished men 
under his arms; to him also I had 
given a few little things when he 
came to the ship after his brother. 4 

Compare also the two accounts of the shipwreck of the Santa Maria. 
Again, Fernando reproduces the content and syntax of his father's 
original text. Las Casas begins by converting it into third-person 
narrative, omitting virtually nothing, but towards the end his 
technique breaks down, he finds himself reproducing the original 
verbatim, and he belatedly retrieves the syntactical situation with an 
interpolation. Here again there is a slight difference of order: either 
Fernando missed the reference to the boat being turned away by the 
caravel (italicized) and introduced it when he realized the fact, or Las 
Casas included it too soon, realized the fact, and returned to the 
portion which he had skipped. 


And it pleased Our Lord that at 
midnight, seeing that I had lain 
down in bed, and as we were in a 
dead calm, and the sea as flat as in a 
dish, everyone went to lie down, 
leaving the helm in the hands of a 
boy. Then it happened that the 
waters which were running carried 
the ship very gently on to one of 
those banks which, although it was 
night, were making a noise so that 
they could be seen and heard from 
a good league away. Then the boy, 
who felt the rudder ground and 
heard the noise, began to cry out 
loudly; and hearing him I got up so 
quickly that nobody had yet 
realized that we had grounded in 
that place, and soon the master of 
the ship, whose watch it was, came 
out; and I told him and the other 
sailors that, having got into the 
boat which was being towed 

Las Casas 

It pleased Our Lord that at 
midnight, having seen the Admiral 
lie down to rest, and that there was 
a dead calm, with the sea like water 
in a bowl, everyone lay down to 
sleep and the helm was left to the 
boy, and the current took the ship 
onto one of the banks, which even 
though it was night could be heard 
and seen from a good league away, 
and the ship grounded so gently 
that it was hardly noticeable. The 
boy, feeling the rudder ground and 
hearing the noise, shouted, and the 
Admiral heard him and came out so 
quickly that no one else had yet 
realized they were aground. Then 
the master, whose watch it was, 
came out, and the Admiral told 
him and the others to haul in the 
boat which they were towing 
astern and take an anchor and 
throw it out astern, and he and 



behind the ship, and taking an 
anchor, they should drop it astern. 
So then they and many others got 
into the boat, I thinking that they 
were going to do what I had told 
them, and they went off in the boat 
to the caravel, which was lying half 
a league away. 

Seeing that they were fleeing in 
the boat, that the tide was ebbing, 
and that the ship was in danger, I 
immediately had the mast cut 
down, and the ship lightened as far 
as possible, to see if she could be 
got off. But with the tide still 
ebbing there was no hope for her, 
because she took a list, the seams 
opened, and she filled completely 
from below the waterline. Then the 
caravel's boat arrived to give me help, 
for when her crew saw the boat fleeing 
they turned it away, and for that reason 
it was forced to return to the ship. 

Seeing no other way to save her, 
I went to the caravel in order to 
save the crew, and because there 
was a land breeze, and much of the 
night was passed, and not knowing 
for certain the way out of those 
banks, I jogged off and on in the 
caravel until daybreak, and then 
came promptly to the ship along 
the inside of the bank, having first 
sent the boat ashore with Diego de 
Arana of Cordoba, the Marshal of 
the Fleet, and Pedro Gutierrez, 
Your Majesties' Butler, to let the 
king know what had happened, 
telling him that, wishing to go to 
visit him in his harbour, as he had 
asked me to do last Saturday, I had 
lost the ship near his village, a 
league and a half away, on a bank 
which was there. 

When he heard this he showed, 
by his tears, considerable sorrow at 
our misfortune, and immediately 
sent all the people of the village to 

many others jumped in the boat 
and the Admiral thought they were 
obeying the order. They had no 
thought but to escape to the caravel 
which was half a league to 
windward. The caravel to its 
credit, refused to take them aboard, 
so they returned to the ship, but the 
camel's boat got there first. 

When the Admiral saw that his 
people were fleeing and the tide 
was ebbing, and that the ship was 
beam-on to the sea, having no 
other recourse, he ordered the mast 
to be cut down and the ship 
lightened as far as possible to see if 
they could get her off. As the tide 
was still ebbing there was no help 
for her and she took a list towards 
the beam sea, though there was no 
great swell, then the seams opened, 
though she held together. 6 The 
Admiral transferred to the caravel 
to get the crew to safety, and as 
there was a land breeze and much 
of the night was left, and they did 
not know the extent of the banks, 
he sailed off and on until daybreak, 
and then he went to the ship inside 
the reef on the bank. He had 
previously sent the boat ashore 
with Diego de Arana of Cordoba, 
Marshal of the Fleet, and Pedro 
Gutierrez, the Butler of the Royal 
Household, to inform the king who 
had sent the message of invitation 
on the Saturday and asked them to 
go to his harbour with the ships, 
and whose village was about a 
league and a half away from the 

When he heard the news they say 
that he wept and sent all his people, 
with many large canoes, to unload 
everything from the ship, and this 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

the ship with many large canoes; 
and so they and we began to 
unload, and we cleared the whole 
deck very quickly, so great was the 
help given by this king. Later he in 
person and his brothers and 
relatives were very diligent, both 
on the ship and ashore, in ensuring 
that everything was done properly, 
and from rime to rime he sent one 
of his relatives weeping to beg me 
not to be downcast, for he would 
give me whatever he had. 

And I state to Your Majesties as 
certain that nowhere in Castile 
could one have found such good 
attention to our things, of which 
not a lace point was missing, for he 
had all our things put together 
beside his palace, where he kept 
them until the houses which he 
wished to give us to store them 
were emptied. He posted armed 
men around them, and made them 
stay there all night, and he and all 
the people of the land were 
weeping, as if our loss mattered 
very much to them; the people are 
so kindly, and generous, and 
tractable and peaceful that I swear 
to Your Majesties that there are no 
better people in the world, and no 
better land. 

They love their neighbour as 
themselves, and their speech is the 
gentlest and sweetest in the world, 
happy and always accompanied by 
laughter. It is true that they go 
about naked, men and women 
alike, but I assure Your Majesties 
that their customs are very 
praiseworthy, and the king is held 
in great majesty, and he is so 
dignified that it is a delight to see 
him; and they have excellent 
memories, and a wish to know 
about everything which makes 

was done, and everything from the 
decks was taken off quickly, such 
was the king's concern and 
diligence, and he and his relatives 
were supervising, both on the ship 
and in guarding the things ashore, 
so that everything would be safe. 
From time to time he sent one of 
his relatives to the Admiral, 
weeping, to tell him not to be 
downhearted or angry, for he 
would give him everything he had. 

The Admiral assures the King 
and Queen that nowhere in Castile 
could such care have been taken 
with everything, without the loss 
of so much as a lace point. He had 
it all put together near the houses 
while some were being cleared 
which he wished to give him to 
store and guard everything, and he 
set armed guards around to watch 
all night, and he and all his people 
kept weeping, they are, says the 
Admiral, such loving people, so 
unselfish and willing in everything, 
for I assure Your Majesties that I 
believe there are no better people, 
nor a better land, in all the world. 

They love their neighbours as 
themselves, and their speech is the 
sweetest in the whole world, gentle 
and always with a smile. Men and 
women go about as naked as they 
were bom, but 1 assure Your 
Majesties that their habits among 
themselves are very good, and the 
king has a marvellous dignity, with 
a restrained bearing, which is a 
delight to see, and the memory he 
has, and he wants to see and 
enquire about everything, what it is 
and what it is for. All this is the 



them enquire about this and that, word of the Admiral. 8 
and want to know the cause and 
effect of everything. 7 

These similarities do not mean that Las Casas never omits anything. In 
other areas Fernando's version supplies material missing from the Las 
Casas version. Very occasionally a different account of the voyage by 
Las Casas, included in his Historia de las Indias, similarly supplies detail 
probably taken from the original but omitted from his version of the 
Journal (though generally the reverse is true). The Historia is also 
useful because its more carefully chiselled syntax shows up incon- 
sistencies in the Journal which, again, are due to Las Casas's partial and 
loose technique of alteration. Compare the accounts of the events of 4 
December; the Journal is syntactically anarchic, especially in tense, but 
more complete in content; the Historia is linguistically improved, but 
omits material. 


He set sail with little wind and left that harbour which he called Puerto Santo, 
after two leagues he saw a good river of which he spoke yesterday. He went 
along the coast and sailed all up the coast beyond the said cape from ESE to 
WNW as far as Cabo Lindo which is at the end of the mountain to the ESE and 
it is five leagues from one to the other. A league and a half from the end of the 
mountain there is a large river, rather narrow, it seemed that it had a good 
entrance and was very deep and from there three-quarters of a league on he 
saw another very large river and it must come from a long way away it was a 
good hundred paces across at the mouth and no bank in it and eight fathoms 
at the mouth and a good entrance because he sent men to look and take 
soundings in the boat and the water is fresh right into the sea and it is one of 
the largest ones I he had found, and there must be large villages on it. 9 


He left that harbour which he called Santo in a direction ESE to WNW, because 
in this way one could sail the length of the coast, and after two leagues he 
found a good river, and a cape which he called Lindo. Then he found another 
large river, and three or four leagues further on he found another very large 
river which must have come from very far away; it was a hundred paces 
across at the mouth, without a bank, and it was eight fathoms deep, with a 
good entrance, and the fresh water ran right out into the sea, and it was one of 
die largest he had seen; and there must have been, as the Admiral says, large 
villages near it. 10 

The English version of the Journal which follows has been reached 
by the following processes: 

1 The translation of all first-person passages in the Las Casas 

2 The restoration into the first person of passages converted, or 
partially converted, by Las Casas to the third person, and their 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

3 The adoption and translation from the Italian of passages quoted in 
the first person in the Fernando Columbus version, in preference to 
corresponding third-person passages in the Las Casas version. Such 
passages are indicated by oblique strokes, and their origin noted. 

4 The occasional insertion and translation of material from the Las 
Casas Historia account or from Fernando's version which one may 
assume with reasonable certainty to have figured in the original 
Journal. Again, this material is placed between oblique strokes, with a 
note on its provenance. 

5 The omission, with a note, of comments obviously inserted by Las 

I hope by these means to have produced a version closer to the content 
and phrasing of Columbus's own account than any published 
previously. It would be extremely rash to claim that nothing is 
missing. Las Casas almost certainly omitted material which cannot be 
retrieved from other sources; sometimes his version ends a sentence 
with 'etc.', which could be Columbus's own, but probably more 
often indicates abbreviation by Las Casas, in some cases by the 
suppression of rhapsodic but repetitious description. Such cases are 
mentioned in my notes. 

My version, therefore, is not Columbus's original, but then neither 
is Fernando's, nor the Las Casas manuscript, nor any of the myriad 
translations which have slavishly followed the slapdash Las Casas 
text. What follows is, I hope, a version corresponding as closely in 
content to the original as it is possible to produce while that original 
remains lost. In my choice of language I have tried to avoid making 
Columbus sound like either Chaucer's shipman or the commodore of 
a yacht club. My aim has been to convey in an enjoyable form the 
idiom of a plain-speaking, occasionally pretentious, but devout and 
literate sea captain in an era when the ocean still had wonders to 

If I have achieved this, I have done so by deliberately avoiding any 
attempts to convey two aspects of the original. The first is 
Columbus's unreadable style. He is at his worst when he is trying 
hardest. The Prologue to the King and Queen contains some of the 
most impenetrable and unwieldy sentences ever written in Spanish, 
and even in the more down-to-earth entries his prose is often ravelled 
and labyrinthine. I wanted the reader to enjoy the Journal, and I have 
remodelled and punctuated accordingly. 

The second feature is Columbus's foreignness. Studies of the 
language of the Journal suggest that to a contemporary Spaniard it 
would not have read like the work of a fellow countryman. This is 
hardly surprising; Columbus had been in Spain only a few years. His 



Spanish is astonishingly good in the circumstances, but it does reveal 
the influence of his youth in Italy, his time in Madeira and Lisbon, and 
his marriage to Felipa. 11 Any attempt on my part to reflect Genoese 
vocabulary or Portuguese syntax in an English translation would 
clearly have been fraught with risk. What matters is what was in his 
mind, not the faults which emerged from his pen. 




In Nomine Domini Nostri }esu Christi 

My Lord and Lady, most Christian, most exalted, most excellent and 
powerful sovereigns, King and Queen of Spain and of the maritime 

In this year of 1492 Your Majesties brought to an end the war 
against the remaining Moorish kingdom on European soil, terminat- 
ing the campaign in the great dty of Granada, where on 2 January this 
year I witnessed Your Majesties' royal standards raised by force of 
arms on the Alhambra, the fortress of that city, and the Moorish king 
emerge from the gates to kiss Your Majesties' hands and those of My 
Lord the Prince, 

In that same month, on the information which I had given Your 
Majesties about the lands of India and a ruler known as the Great Khan 
(which means in Spanish 'King of Kings'), of whom I told you that he, 
like his predecessors, had many times appealed to Rome for men 
learned in our Holy Faith to instruct him, an appeal to which the Holy 
Father had not responded, and about the many peoples who were 
being lost through belief in idolatries and the acceptance of religions 
of damnation, Your Majesties, being Catholic Christians and rulers 
devoted to the Holy Christian Faith and dedicated to its expansion and 
to combating the religion of Mahomet and all idolatries and heresies, 
decided to send me, Christopher Columbus, to those lands of India to 
meet their rulers and to see the towns and lands and their distribution, 
and all other things, and to find out in what manner they might be 
converted to our Holy Faith; and you ordered me not to go eastward 
by land, as is customary, but to take my course westward, where, so 
far as we know, no man has travelled before today. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

After expelling all the Jews from your kingdoms and territories, in 
the same month of January Your Majesties commanded me to sail to 
those regions of India with a suitable fleet; and for this purpose you 
granted me great concessions and ennobled me, allowing me to call 
myself Don from then onwards, with the title of Grand Admiral of the 
Ocean Sea, and Viceroy and Governor in perpetuity of all the islands 
and mainland that I might discover and win, or which may be 
henceforth discovered and won in the Ocean Sea, and you ordained 
moreover that my eldest son should succeed me in this, and so on 
through future generations forever. 

I left the city of Granada on Saturday, 12 May 1492, and travelled to 
the port of Palos, where I prepared three vessels well suited for such an 
enterprise. I left that port, amply furnished with provisions and well 
crewed with seafaring men, on Friday, 3 August, sailing for Your 
Majesties' Canary Islands in the Ocean Sea, intending to set my course 
from there and to sail until I reach the Indies, where I will convey Your 
Majesties' embassy to those rulers and so carry out my orders. 

With this end in mind I have resolved to set down each day full 
details of every thing I do and see and experience on this voyage, as will 
later appear. Moreover, My Sovereign Lord and Lady, as well as 
describing every night the events of the day, and recording each day 
the distance run in the night, I intend to make a new chart in which I 
will set out the whole of the Ocean Sea, with sea and land properly laid 
out with true positions and courses. I also intend to compose a book 
including a true depiction of everything, giving its latitude from the 
Equator and its western longitude. 

Above all, I must have no regard for sleep, but must concentrate on 
the demands of navigation; all of which will be no small task. 



Friday, 3 August 

We set sail on Friday, 3 August 1492, crossing the bar of the Saltes at 

eight o'clock. Sailed s with a strong, veering wind 1 until sunset, 

making forty-eight miles, or sixteen leagues; then s w and s by w, on 

course for the Canaries. 

3 August Wind rose 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Saturday, 4 August 
Course sw by s. 

Sunday, 5 August 

Continued on course, running more than forty-two leagues in the 

twenty-four hours. 

Monday, 6 August 

The rudder of the caravel Pinta, commanded by Martin Alonso 
Pinzon, came ofFits pintles. I suspect one Gomez Rascon and Cristobal 
Quintero, the owner of the vessel, who was unwilling to make the 
voyage. I discovered these two up to various mischiefs before we left 
port. I was very worried at not being able to help the Pinta without 
endangering my own vessel, though my concern was reduced because 
I knew Martin Alonso Pinzon to be a determined and resourceful 
man. We sailed thirty-one leagues in the twenty-four hours. 

Tuesday, 7 August 

The Pinta 's rudder came loose again. It was fixed, and we continued 
towards Lanzarote, in the Canaries. Sailed twenty-six leagues in the 
twenty-four hours. 

Wednesday, 8 August 

The pilotos of my three vessels could not agree on our position. My 
own reckoning was the best. I was hoping to go to Gran Canaria to 
leave the Pinta, which is leaking and is sailing poorly because of her 
rudder, and to find another caravel to replace her, but we were unable 
to make Gran Canaria. 

Thursday, 9 August 

. . . Many honourable Spaniards who are on La Gomera with Dona 
Ines Peraza, but whose home is on the island of Hierro, have sworn to 
me that every year they sight land to the west of the Canaries; other 
people on La Gomera have told me the same. I remember that in 
Portugal in 1484 a man from the island of Madeira came to ask the king 
for a caravel to go to that land, which he swore he saw every year, 
always looking the same. I remember them saying the same thing in 
the Azores, and all these people described the same course and the 
same appearance and size. 

Having taken on water, wood, meat and the rest of what had been 
left with the men who stayed on La Gomera when I went to Gran 
Canaria to repair the Pinta, I finally set sail from La Gomera with my 
three vessels on Thursday, 6 September. 


1 The Ptolemaic universe: the world as a sphere, with the planets rotating around it. 

2 The Ocean Sea on the globe of Martin Behaim. 

3 The pre-Columbian world: the map of Henricus -'^; 
Martellus, showing the Portuguese exploration of the 
African coast. At the top right is Cathay, with the cities of 

the Great Khan. 

4 Oriental merchants. 

5 The pepper harvest. 

6 Islands of men and women. 

7 Cannibals. 

A XT;*!/; 
L X:-3JV 

K r=-y,r;* 


V x/- ; ''?tP/ 
V ->KCjri 
$ X ';r: 

15 >"> 

h ?< fti:r 

.;x';i'.:-'7?r.^. ^-^ 


S 1 He ureat ivnan ana nis 
tablet of gold. 

__^^ 9a and 9b Late fifteenth- 

centur v 

A * ships. 




10 Mainsail and bonnet of amio. 

lla Topsail and lib lateen mizzensail. 

12 Wind roses and rhumb lines on a Portuguese sixteenth-century chart of the Azores and Canaries. 

$&M*&M'fl(Ate^&& ^Hr-iy 

j-.ii**- r% Kt . ,. _**** * -j j> *- ^ i- 


. ,^* #V * * flfc ^ J^K * fe 

14 The Guards in their rotation around the Pole. 

16 A duho from Santo Domingo. 

15 An early watercolour of 
Caribbean Indians fishing. 



17 Columbus's ships, directed by King Ferdinand, 
discover the Indies. 

18 Columbus and his newly named islands. 

19 The building of Navidad, 



-. / , '/T-v U-% 
:<** ':vj v >. .Vf 

i. vr.-tt-; ':K- v-,' 


,-H 5 ."* ' ^' ~, J - :'^ 4~.~ " , "^ --S^^'U' 
A^v^r .;<>^V V /-' ^^ ^-"^/O"- 

::i .^I^S! : :^ ! ?'r^D^^^ 
'''^''l^ti^t //',; jlf'AV' : 


20 The Indies on the Cantino map of the world, 1502, showing the extension of the discoveries to the 
mainland of North and South America. The vertical line is the Papally approved division between the 
areas to be explored by Spain and Portugal. The curious 'Land of the King of Portugal' to the north is 


21 St Christopher as patron. 

22 Columbus's signature. The dosing cypher is preceded by four lines ot his titles, including * Admiral 
of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and General Governor of the Islands and Mainland of Asia and the Indies'. 

The Journal 

Thursday , 6 September 

I sailed from the harbour of La Gomera and set my course to continue 
the voyage. I spoke a caravel coming from the island of Hierro; they 
told me that three Portuguese caravels are sailing around off the island 
to seize me. It must be because of the king's rancour towards me 
because I left Portugal for Spain. Calm all day and night. In the 
morning we were between La Gomera and Tenerife. 

6 September Map of the Canaries 

Friday, 7 September 

Calm all day Friday and on through the night until three o'clock on 

Saturday morning. 

Saturday , 8 September 

At three in the morning it began to blow from the northeast, and I set a 
course w. A strong head sea slowed us down; ran about nine and a half 
leagues, day and night together. 

Sunday, g September 

We sailed sixteen and a half leagues. I have decided to log less than our 
true run, so that if the voyage is long the crew will not be afraid and 
lose heart. In the night we sailed ninety-five miles at eight knots, 
making thirty-two leagues. The helmsmen steered badly, letting the 
ship fall off a point to w by N, and sometimes even to WNW; I had to 
reprimand them many times. 

Monday, 10 September 

Day and night together, we ran sixty-three and a half leagues at close 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

on eight knots, or over two and a half leagues per hour. I logged only 
fifty-one leagues, so as not to alarm the crew if the voyage is long. 

Tuesday, n September 

We continued on course w, over twenty leagues. We saw a large piece 
of the mast of a i2O-ton ship, but could not pick it up. Sailed about 
twenty-one leagues in the night, and logged only seventeen for the 
same reason as before. 

Wednesday, 12 September 

Continued on course. We sailed thirty-five leagues, day and night 

together, and I logged fewer for the same reason. 

Thursday f 13 September 

Sailed thirty-five leagues, on course w; I logged three or four fewer. 
Adverse currents. At nightfall the needles were declining slightly N w, 
and in the morning they were declining slightly NE. 

Friday, 14 September 

Continued on course w, day and night. We ran twenty-one leagues, 
and I logged a few less. The people on the Nina said they had seen a 
tern and a tropic bird. These birds never fly more -than twenty-five 
leagues from land. 

Saturday, 15 September 

We maintained our course w, something over twenty-eight and a half 
leagues. Early in the night we saw a marvellous bolt of fire fall from 
the sky into the sea about four or five leagues away. /These various 
things are disturbing and depressing the men, who are interpreting 
them as signs that we have taken a dangerous course./ 1 

Sunday, 16 September 

We continued on course w. Ran about forty-one leagues; I logged 
only thirty-eight. Some cloud and drizzle. Today 1 we had temperate 
breezes, and it was a joy to taste the morning air; all that was lacking 
was the song of the nightingales, and the weather was like April in 
Andalusia. We began to see patches of bright green weed, not long 
detached, it appeared, from the land. /The voyage is growing long, 
and we are far from home, and the men are beginning to complain 
about the length of the journey and about me for involving them in it. 
When they saw these great rafts of weed in the distance they began to 
be afraid that they were rocks or submerged ground, which made 
them even more impatient and outspoken in their complaints against 
me. Having seen the ships sailing through the weed, however, they 


The Journal 

have lost their fear somewhat, though not entirely./ 2 Everyone 
thought we were near some island, but I do not think it is the 
mainland, which' by my reckoning is much further on. 

Monday, 17 September 

We continued on course w. Ran over fifty-three leagues in the 
twenty-four hours; I logged only fifty. We had a favourable current. 
We saw great quantities of weed. It was weed that grows on the rocks, 
and was coming from the west. Everyone thought we were near land, 
/which lifted the men's spirits and reduced their complaints. We have 
sailed 392 leagues from the island of Hierro, the westernmost point of 
the Canaries./ 1 

The pilotos took a sight on the north and marked it, and found that 
the needles were declining a full point NW. The men were disturbed 
and fearful, and would not say why. I recognized what was happening 
and ordered them to take another sight in the morning, and they found 
the needles pointing true. The reason appears to be that it is the star 
that moves, not the needles. 

At dawn we saw much more weed. It looked like river weed, and 
we found a live crab in it, which I have kept. These are sure signs of 
land, for one does not find such things eighty leagues from land. The 
sea seems less salty since we left the Canaries, and the breezes sweeter 
all the time. We are all in good spirits, and the ships in competition 
with each other to be the first to sight land. 

We saw large numbers of dolphins, 2 and they killed one from the 
Nina. These signs are coming from the west, where I trust that the 
great God in whose hands all victory lies will give us a landfall. This 
morning I saw a tropic bird, a white bird which does not normally 
spend the night at sea. 

Tuesday j 18 September 

Our day's run was more than fifty-eight and a half leagues; I logged 
only fifty-one. The sea lately has been calm, like the river at Seville. 
Today Martin Alonso in the Pinta, which is a fast ship, did not wait 
for the others; he told me that he had seen great numbers of birds 
flying westward, and that he was pressing on because he expected to 
sight land tonight. A great bank of cloud appeared to the north, which 
is a sign of land close by. 

Wednesday, 19 September 

We remained on course but ran only about twenty-six and a half 
leagues in the twenty-four hours, the winds being light. I logged 
twenty-three and a half. At ten o'clock a booby came to the ship, and 
in the evening we saw another. Normally they do not fly more than 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

twenty leagues from land. /It was calm, and we took a sounding with 
a 2OO-fathom line. We found no bottom, but discovered that there was 
a sw current./ 1 A few showers, with no wind, another sure sign of 
land. I do not wish to waste time beating about to make sure that there 
is land, but I am certain that there are islands to the north and south 2 
and that I am sailing between them. However, I wish to maintain my 
course towards the Indies in this fair weather we are having, and with 
God's help we shall see everything on our passage homeward. 

Thepilotos gave me their calculated positions: the Nina's has us 466 
leagues from the Canaries; the Pinta's makes it 445; my own man 
makes it 424. /I have been going around encouraging the men, always 
giving them the lower figure so as not to depress their spirits. The 
further we sail from Spain the greater grows their distress and unrest; 
they complain more every hour. They have been paying more and 
more attention to the signs we see, and although they took some heart 
from the birds, now that no land has appeared they believe nothing 
they see, and think that the absence of signs means that we are sailing 
to a new world from which we will never return./ 3 

Thursday, 20 September 

We sailed w by N and WNW in light, variable winds, about seven or 
eight leagues. Two boobies came to the ship, then another, a sign of 
being close to land. We saw a lot of weed, though there was none 
yesterday. We took a bird by hand, like a tern, /except that it was black 
with a white patch on its head; it had feet like a duck's, as water birds 
do. The crew killed a little fish./ 1 Two or three little land birds settled 
on the ship, singing, and then flew away before dawn. Then a booby 
came, flying from WNW and on towards SE, which is a sign that it had 
left the land to the WNW, for these birds sleep ashore and fly out to sea 
for food in the morning, but not more than twenty leagues. /These 
signs have raised the crews' spirits a little./ 2 

Friday, 21 September 

Flat calm, followed by high winds. Day and night together we ran 
about thirty-two leagues, partly on course and partly not. At dawn we 
saw so much weed that the sea seemed solid with it; it was coming 
from the west. We saw a booby. The sea is as calm as a river, with the 
pleasantest breezes in the world. We sighted a whale, a sign of land, 
since they always remain close to it [. . .J 1 

Saturday, 22 September 

Sailed about thirty-two leagues, generally WNW, with some variation 
either way. Very little weed. We saw some petrels and another bird. I 
needed this contrary wind; the crew were very restless, thinking that 

The Journal 

these waters never produce the wind to blow them back to Spain. No 
weed at all for part of the day, but later it became very thick. 

Sunday, 23 September 

Sailed NW, sometimes NW by N, sometimes on course due w, and 
made about twenty-three and a half leagues. We saw a turtledove, a 
booby, some small river birds and some other white birds. Large 
quantities of weed, with crabs in it. The sea was a flat calm, and the 
crew were complaining, saying that as the sea was never rough here 
there would never be a wind to take us home to Spain, but then they 
were astonished when a heavy sea rose with no wind. So this heavy sea 
came very opportunely for me; it was just like the Jews, on their way 
out of Egypt, arguing with Moses as he led them out of captivity. 

Monday, 24 September 

Remained on course w, day and night. We made about fifteen and a 
half leagues, and I logged thirteen. A booby came to the ship, and we 
saw many petrels /flying from the west. We saw fish around the ships, 
and killed a few with harpoons/. * 

Tuesday, 25 September 

Becalmed much of the day; a wind later, and we sailed w until 
nightfall. I talked to Martin Alonso Pinzon, captain of the caravel 
Pinta, and discussed a chart 1 which I had sent over to his ship three 
days ago and which has islands marked in these waters. Martin Alonso 
said that we are in the area, and I agreed with him. As we have not 
found the islands, it must be due to the currents which have set us back 
towards the northeast and caused us to run less than thepilotos say, I 
asked him to return the chart; he sent it across by a rope and I started to 
make calculations on it with my piloto and seamen. 

At sunset Martin Alonso went up on the poop of his ship and called 
to me full of happiness 2 with the good news that he could see land. 
When he repeated it and said that it was definite, I knelt down to give 
thanks to God. Martin Alonso was saying the Gloria in excelsis Deo 
with his people, and mine did the same. The crew of the Nina all 
climbed up the mast and into the rigging, and all agreed that it was 
land. I thought the same, and that it was about twenty-five leagues 
away. Everyone kept on saying it was land until nightfall. I ordered a 
change of course from w to sw, the direction of the land. We had 
sailed w about five leagues, and in the night we made about eighteen 
leagues s w, a total of twenty-three. I told the crew fourteen. 3 The sea 
was very calm, and some of the crew swam. We saw many dorados 4 
and other fish. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Wednesday, 26 September 

Sailed on course w until after noon, then s w until we found that what 
we had thought was land was only clouds. Our twenty-four hour run 
was about thirty-three leagues; I told the men twenty-five and a half. 
The sea was just like a river, with sweet, gentle breezes. 

Thursday, 27 September 

On course w, about twenty-five and a half leagues in the twenty-four 
hours. I told the men twenty-one. We saw many dorados, and one was 
killed. We also saw a tropic bird. 

Friday, 28 September 

On course w. Calms; sailed fifteen leagues in the twenty-four hours, 
and logged fourteen. Not much weed. We caught two dorados, and the 
other ships caught more. 

Saturday t 29 September 

Remained on course w and ran twenty-five and a half leagues; I told 
the crew twenty-two. Little headway day and night because of calms. 
We saw a frigate bird, which makes the boobies vomit up what they 
have eaten and eats it itself. This is its only source of food. It is a sea 
bird, but never settles on the sea, or goes more than twenty leagues 
from land; it is common in the Cape Verde Islands. Later we saw two 
boobies. Sweet, gentle breezes; the only thing missing is the song of 
the nightingale, and the sea is as calm as a river. Later we saw three 
more boobies and a frigate bird, three times. Large quantities of weed. 

Sunday, 30 September 

Remained on course w. Calms; we made only fifteen leagues in the 

twenty-four hours. I logged twelve. Four frigate birds came to the 

ship, a sure sign of land, because with so many birds of a kind together 

it shows that they are not wandering about lost. Large amounts of 


NB: At nightfall the stars called the Guards are close to a line bearing 
w, and at dawn they are on a line bearing NE, so it appears that in the 
whole night they move only three lines, or nine hours. This is so every 
night. 1 Also, at nightfall the needles deviate a point to the NW, and at 
dawn they are right on the star, so it seems that the star moves like any 
other, whereas the needles always point true. 2 

Monday, i October 

Remained on course w. We made about twenty-six and a half leagues; 
I told the men twenty-one. We had a great rainstorm. My piloto 
reckoned that at dawn today we had sailed 602 leagues west from the 


The Journal 

island of Hierro. My lower figure, which I show to the men, is 619; the 
true figure, which I keep to myself, is 750. 

Tuesday, 2 October 

Remained on course w. Forty-one and a half leagues in the twenty- 
four hours; I told the men about thirty-two. Still a good, cairn sea, 
thanks be to God. There was weed drifting from east to west, the 
opposite to its usual direction. We saw many fish, and one was killed. 
We also saw a white bird like a gull. 

Wednesday, 3 October 

Course as usual. Fifty leagues; I told the men forty-two and a half. We 
saw petrels and a lot of weed, some very old and some fresh, bearing a 
sort of fruit. No birds. I think the islands on my chart are now behind 
us. I decided not to spend time beating about last week and this, when 
there were so many signs of land, even though I had information that 
certain islands lie in these waters, because I did not want anything to 
delay me in my aim of reaching the Indies; to delay would have been 

Thursday, 4 October 

Remained on course w. Our twenty-four hour run was sixty-seven 

leagues; I told the men forty-nine. More than forty petrels came to the 

ship together, and two boobies; a ship's boy threw a stone at one of 

them and hit it. A frigate bird came to the ship, and a white bird like a 


Friday, 5 October 

Remained on course at about six and a half knots. Our twenty-four 
hour run was about sixty and a half leagues, because the wind grew 
less in the night; I told the men forty-eight. The sea calm and still, 
thanks be to God, and the air sweet and temperate. No weed; plenty of 
petrels. Large numbers of flying fish flew into the ship. 

Saturday, 6 October 

Remained on course w. Forty-two and a half leagues in the twenty- 
four hours; I told the men thirty-five. Martin Alonso said tonight that 
we would be best to steer sw by w. I think he had the island of 
Cipango in mind when he said this. 1 My own opinion is that if we 
miss Cipango we shall be a long time in making a landfall, and it is 
better to strike the mainland first and go to the islands afterwards. 

Sunday, j October 

Continued w. We ran at nine and a half knots for two hours and then at 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

six and a half knots. An hour before sunset we had sailed about 
twenty-four and a half leagues. 1 At sunrise today the caravel Nina, 
which was ahead of us, being a faster vessel, and was sailing as fast as 
she could to win the prize offered by the King, ran a flag up to the 
maintruck and fired a lombard as a signal that they had sighted land, as 
I had ordered. I had also given orders for all three ships to close up 
together at sunrise and sunset; these are the times when the visibility is 
best, the distance being less obscured by the mist. In the evening we 
could not see the land which the crew of the Nina thought they had 

There was a great passage of birds from N to sw, which made us 
think that they were going back to the land to roost, or perhaps fleeing 
from the winter, which must have been arriving in the lands they had 
left. I know that most of the islands held by the Portuguese were 
discovered with the help of birds, so I decided to change course from 
due w to wsw, 2 and to follow this course for two days. Sailed about 
five and a half leagues in the night, which with the day's twenty-four 
and a half makes thirty. 

Monday, S October 

Sailed wsw, about twelve or twelve and a half leagues in the twenty- 
four hours. At times in the night we were running at almost twelve 
knots. * The sea has been like the river at Seville, thanks be to God, and 
the breezes as sweet as in Seville in April, so fragrant that it is a joy to 
smell them. The weed seems fresher. Many land birds; we caught one 
flying sw; terns, 2 ducks and a booby. 

Tuesday, 9 October 

Sailed sw for five and a half leagues. The wind then changed and I 
altered course to w by N for four and a half leagues. All told, we made 
eleven and a half leagues by day and twenty-two by night. I told the 
men eighteen leagues. We could hear birds passing all night long. 

Wednesday, 10 October 

Sailed wsw at about eight knots, sometimes up to nine and a half, 
occasionally only five and a half. Sixty-two and a half leagues in the 
twenty-four hours; I told the men only forty-six and a half. They 
could contain themselves no longer, and began to complain of the 
length of the voyage. I encouraged them as best I could, trying to raise 
their hopes of the benefits they might gain from it. I also told them that 
it was useless to complain; having set out for the Indies I shall continue 
this voyage until, with God's grace, I reach them. 


The Journal 

Thursday, 11 October 1 

Course wsw. A heavy sea, the roughest in the whole voyage so far. 
We saw petrels, and a green reed close to the ship, /and then a big 
green fish of a kind which does not stray far from the shoals./ 2 On the 
Pinta they saw a cane and a stick, and they picked up another little 
piece of wood which seemed to have been worked with an iron tool; 
also a piece of cane and another plant which grows on land, and a little 
board. On the Nina too they saw signs of land, and /a thorn-branch 
laden with red fruits, apparently newly cut./ 3 We were all filled with 
joy and relief at these signs. Sailed twenty-eight and a half leagues 
before sunset. After sunset I resumed our original course westward, 
sailing at about nine knots. By two o'clock in the morning we had 
sailed about sixty-eight miles, or twenty-two and a half leagues. 

When everyone aboard was together for the Salve Regina, which all 
seamen say or sing in their fashion, /I talked to the men about the grace 
which God had shown us by bringing us in safety, with fair winds and 
no obstacles, and by comforting us with signs which were more 
plentiful every day. I urged them to keep a good watch and reminded 
them that in the first article of the sailing instructions issued to each 
ship in the Canaries I gave orders not to sail at night after we had 
reached a point seven hundred leagues from there; I was sailing on 
because of everyone's great desire to sight land./ 4 I warned them to 
keep a good lookout in the bows and told them that I would give a silk 
doublet to the man who first sighted land, as well as the prize of 10,000 
maravedis promised by Your Majesties. 

I was on the poop deck at ten o'clock in the evening when I saw a 
light. 5 It was so indistinct that I could not be sure it was land, but I 
called Pedro Gutierrez, the Butler of the King's Table, and told him to 
look at what I thought was a light. He looked, and saw it. I also told 
Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia, Your Majesties' observer on board, but 
he saw nothing because he was standing in the wrong place. After I 
had told them, the light appeared once or twice more, like a wax 
candle rising and falling. Only a few people thought it was a sign of 
land, but I was sure we were close to a landfall. 

Then the Pinta, being faster and in the lead, sighted land and made the 
signal as I had ordered. The first man to sight land was called Rodrigo de 
Triana. The land appeared two hours after midnight, about two leagues 
away. We furled all sail except the treo, the mainsail -with no bonnets, and 
jogged off and on 6 until Friday morning, when we came to an island. 7 
We saw naked people, and I went ashore in a boat with armed men, 
taking Martin Alonso Pinzon and his brother Vicente Yanez, captain of 
the Nina. I took the royal standard, and the captains each took a banner 
with the Green Cross which each of my ships carries as a device, with the 
letters F and Y, surmounted by a crown, at each end of the cross. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

When we stepped ashore we saw fine green trees, streams every- 
where and different kinds of fruit. I called to the two captains to jump 
ashore with the rest, who included Rodrigo de Escobedo, secretary of 
the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia, asking them to bear solemn 
witness that in the presence of them all I was taking possession of this 
island for their Lord and Lady the King and Queen, and I made the 
necessary declarations which are set down at greater length in the 
written testimonies. 

Soon many of the islanders gathered round us. I could see that they 
were people who would be more easily converted to our Holy Faith 
by love than by coercion, and wishing them to look on us with 
friendship I gave some of them red bonnets and glass beads which they 
hung round their necks, and many other things of small value, at 
which they were so delighted and so eager to please us that we could 
not believe it. Later they swam out to the boats to bring us parrots and 
balls of cotton thread and darts, and many other things, exchanging 
them for such objects as glass beads and hawk bells. They took 
anything, and gave willingly whatever they had. 

However, they appeared to me to be a very poor people in all 
respects. They go about as naked as the day they were born, even the 
women, though I saw only one, who was quite young. 8 All the men I 
saw were quite young, none older than thirty, all well built, finely 
bodied and handsome in the face. Their hair is coarse, almost like a 
horse's tail, and short; they wear it short, cut over the brow, 9 except a 
few strands of hair hanging down uncut at the back. 

Some paint themselves with black, some with the colour of the 
Canary islanders, 10 neither black nor white, others with white, others 
with red, others with whatever they can find. Some have only their 
face painted, others their whole body, others just their eyes or nose. 
They carry no weapons, and are ignorant of them; when I showed 
them some swords they took them by the blade and cut themselves. 
They have no iron; their darts are just sticks without an iron head, 
though some of them have a fish tooth or something else at the tip. 

They are all the same size, of good stature, dignified and well 
formed. I saw some with scars on their bodies, and made signs to ask 
about them, and they indicated to me that people from other islands 
nearby came to capture them and they defended themselves. I 
thought, and still think, that people from the mainland come here to 
take them prisoner. They must be good servants, and intelligent, for I 
can see that they quickly repeat everything said to them. I believe they 
would readily become Christians; it appeared to me that they have no 
religion. With God's will, I will take six of them with me for Your 
Majesties when I leave this place, so that they may learn Spanish. 

I saw no animals on the island, only parrots. 


The Journal 

Saturday, 13 October 

In the early morning many of the islanders came to the beach, all 
young, as I have said, tall and handsome, their hair not curly, but 
flowing and thick, like horsehair. They are all broader in the forehead 
and head than any people I have ever seen, with fine, large eyes. None 
of them is black; they are rather the same colour as the folk on the 
Canary Islands, which is what one might expect, this island being on 
the same latitude as Hierro in the Canaries, which lies due E. 

13 October Canoe with several rowers 

Their legs are very straight, and they are all the same height, not stout 
in the belly but well shaped. They came out to the ship in almadias 1 
made from a tree-trunk, like a long boat, all of a piece, wonderfully 
shaped in the way of this land, some big enough to carry forty or fifty 
men, others smaller, with only one man. They row them with paddles 
like a baker's shovel, very swiftly, and if the boat overturns they all 
jump into the sea to turn it over again and bale it out with gourds. 
They brought us balls of cotton thread and parrots and darts and other 
little things which it would be tedious to list, and exchanged 
everything for whatever we offered them. 

I kept my eyes open and tried to find out if there was any gold, and I 
saw that some of them had a little piece hanging from a hole in their 
nose. I gathered from their signs that if one goes south, or around the 
south side of the island, there is a king with great jars full of it, 
enormous amounts. I tried to persuade them to go there, but I saw that 
the idea was not to their liking. 

I decided to wait until tomorrow and then to set off to the 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

southwest, for many of them seemed to be saying that there is land to 
the s and sw and NW, and that the people from the NW often come to 
attack them, and continue to the sw in search of gold and precious 
stones. This island is large and very flat, with green trees and plenty of 
water; there is a large lake in the middle, no mountains, and 
everything is green and a delight to the eye. The people are very 
gentle; they are so eager for our things that if we refuse to give them 
something without getting something in exchange they seize what 
they can and jump into the water with it. But they will give whatever 
they have for anything one gives them; they even bargained for pieces 
of broken plate and broken glasses. I saw them take three Portuguese 
ceotis, the equivalent of one Castilian blanca, for sixteen balls of cotton 
which must have contained more than an arroba 2 of thread. I had 3 
forbidden anyone to take this, except that I had given orders to take it 
all for Your Majesties if it was in sufficient quantity. It grows on this 
island, though in the little time available I could not swear to this, and 
the gold they wear hanging from their noses is also from the island, 
but so as not to waste time I wish to set off to see if I can reach the island 
of Cipango. 

It is now after nightfall and they have all gone ashore in their 

Sunday, 14 October 

I gave orders at daybreak for the small boat of the Santa Maria and the 
boats of the two caravels to be got ready, and went along the coast to 
the northeast to examine the eastward part of the island, and the 
villages, of which I saw two or three. The people kept coming down 
to the beach, calling to us and giving thanks to God. Some brought us 
water, some food; others, seeing that I did not wish to go ashore, 
swam out to us, and we understood them to be asking if we had come 
from Heaven. 1 One old man climbed into the boat, and the others, 
men and women, kept shouting, 'Come and see the men who have 
come from Heaven; bring them food and drink/ 

Many men and women came, each bringing something and giving 
thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and raising their 
hands in the air. They called to us to go ashore, but I was afraid of a great 
reef which encircles the whole island, though between it and the shore 
there is a deep harbour big enough to hold every ship in Christendom, 
with a very narrow entrance channel. There are certainly shoals within 
this reef, but the sea inside it is as calm as a millpond. 

I bestirred myself to explore all this this morning so as to be able to 
give Your Majesties a description of it all, and also of a possible site for 
a fort. I saw a piece of land which is virtually an island; there are six 
houses on it, and it could be converted into an island with a couple of 


The Journal 

days' work, although I do not see the necessity. These people have 
little knowledge of fighting, as Your Majesties will see from the seven 
I have had captured to take away with us so as to teach them our 
language and return them, unless Your Majesties' orders are that they 
all be taken to Spain or held captive on the island itself, for with fifty 
men one could keep the whole population in subjection and make 
them do whatever one wanted. 

Near the islet I have described there are groves of the most beautiful 
trees I ever saw; so green, with their leaves like those in Castile in April 
and May. There is also plenty of water. I explored the whole harbour, 
and then returned to the ship and set sail. I saw so many islands that I 
could not decide which to go to first. The men I had captured told me 
by -signs that there are so many that they cannot be counted; they gave 
me the names of over a hundred. I therefore looked for the largest, and 
decided to sail for it, which is what I am doing now. It must be about 
five leagues from this island of San Salvador. Some of the others are 
nearer, some further away. They are all very flat and fertile, with no 
mountains, and they are all populated and make war on one another, 
though these people are very simple, and very finely made. 

Monday, 15 October 

Last night I lay to for fear of approaching land to anchor before 
morning, not knowing if the coast was free from shoals, and intending 
to increase sail at dawn. The distance was more than five leagues, 
nearer seven, and the tide set us back, so that it would be around noon 
when I reached the island. I found that the arm of the island nearest San 
Salvador runs N s, and is five leagues long, and the other, along which 
I sailed, runs E w for over ten leagues. 

From this island I sighted another larger one to the west, so I 
increased sail to press on all day until nightfall, for otherwise I could 
not have reached the western cape. I named this island Santa Maria de 
la Concepcion. 1 I anchored off the western cape just before sunset to 
find out if there was any gold there. The prisoners I took on San 
Salvador kept telling me that the people of this island wore great gold 
bracelets and legbands, but I thought it was all invention to enable 
them to escape. However, my intention being not to pass by any 
island without taking possession of it, although taking possession of 
one might be taken to serve for them all, I anchored and remained 
there until today, Tuesday. 

At daybreak I armed the boats and went ashore. There were 
numerous people, naked and similar to those on San Salvador. They 
let us go about on the island and gave us whatever I asked for. The 
wind was strengthening from the southeast, so I decided not to linger, 
but set off to return to the ship. A large almadia was alongside the 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Nina, and one of the men from San Salvador who was aboard the 
caravel jumped into the sea /and went off in it (another had jumped 
overboard the previous night). Our boat set off after the almadia, 
which paddled away so fast that no boat ever built could have 
outpaced it, even with a considerable start./ 2 Anyway, it reached the 
shore and they abandoned it. Some of my men landed in pursuit, and 
the islanders all fled like chickens. The almadia was taken back on 
board the Nina. 

By now another small almadia was approaching the Nina from a 
different headland with one man in it who had come to barter a ball of 
cotton. He did not want to come aboard, so some of the sailors 
jumped into the sea and captured him. I saw all this from the deck of 
the sterncastle, so I sent for him; I gave him a red bonnet and put a few 
little green glass beads on his arm and hung two bells from his ears. I 
had him put back in his almadia, which had also been taken aboard the 
ship's boat, and sent him back ashore. I then made sail to go to the 
other large island which I could see to the westward, and I ordered the 
other almadia which the Nina was towing astern to be set adrift. 

When the man to whom I had given gifts, refusing his ball of cotton, 
reached the shore I saw that all the others came up to him. He was 
amazed and thought that we were good people and that the other who 
had escaped was being taken with us because he had done us some 
harm. That was my purpose in giving him presents and letting him 
go: to make them think well of us, so that when Your Majesties send 
someone else here he may be well received. All the things I gave him 
would not be worth four maravedis if you put them together. 

I set sail, then, at about ten o'clock with the wind SE, veering 
southerly, to cross to this other island. It is very large, and all the men 
from San Salvador tell me by signs that there is a lot of gold, which the 
people wear as bracelets and legbands, and in their ears and noses, and 
round their necks. 

From the island of Santa Maria to this new one is nine and a half 
leagues, almost due w, and all this part of the island runs from NW to 
SE. There appears to be at least thirty leagues of coast on this side, very 
flat, without a hill anywhere, like San Salvador and Santa Maria. 
There are sandy beaches all the way, except that there are some 
underwater rocks near the shoreline, making it necessary to take care 
when anchoring and not to anchor close inshore, although the water is 
very clear and one can see the bottom. Two lombard shots from shore 
all around these islands one can find no bottom. 

The islands are very green and lush, with sweet breezes, and there 
may be many things here which I do not know about, because rather 
than lingering I wish to explore and investigate many islands in search 
of gold. As these people tell me by signs that the folk wear it on their 


The Journal 

arms and legs - and it is gold they mean, for I showed them some 
pieces of my own - with God's help I cannot fail to find the source of 

Halfway between these two islands, Santa Maria and this larger one 
which I am calling Fernandina, 3 we found a man alone in an almadia 
making the same crossing as ourselves. He had a piece of bread as big 
as his fist, a calabash of water, a piece of red earth, powdered and 
kneaded, 4 and a few dried leaves which must be something of 
importance to these people, because they brought me some in San 
Salvador. He also had a small basket with a little string of glass beads 
and two blancas, so I knew that he had come from San Salvador and 
called at Santa Maria on his way to Fernandina. He came alongside the 
ship and I let him come aboard at his request. I also made him bring his 
almadia on board with him. I let him keep all the things he had with 
him, and ordered him to be given bread and honey, and something to 
drink. I am going to take him to Fernandina and give him all his 
possessions so that he will give a good report of us, in order that when 
Your Majesties, with the grace of God, send men back to this place 
they will be received with honour, and we will be given whatever the 
island has to offer. 

Tuesday, 16 October 

I left the islands 1 of Santa Maria de la Concepcion about noon for the 
island of Fernandina to the west. 2 It appears very large. Calms all day. 
We could not reach the island in time to see the bottom to find a clean 
anchorage, which is a thing one must take great care over if one is not 
to lose one's anchors, so I lay to until daybreak, when I came to a 
village and anchored. The man whom I found in the almadia in mid- 
crossing yesterday had come to the same village, and had given such a 
good report of us that there were almadias alongside the ship all night, 
bringing us water and whatever else they had. I gave orders for each of 
them to receive something: a few glass beads, ten or a dozen strung 
together, or little brass bells of the kind which sell for a maravedi in 
Castile, or a few lace ends, all of which made a great impression on 
them. When they came aboard ship I ordered them to be given sugar 
syrup to eat. 

Later, at about the hour of terce, 3 I sent the ship's boat ashore for 
water, and the people willingly showed the men where to find it, and 
carried the full casks back to the boat for them, and took great delight 
in pleasing us. 

This island is very large. I have determined to sail all round it, for as 
far as I understand there is a gold mine either in or near it. It is eight and 
a half leagues almost due w of the island of Santa Maria. The cape to 
which I sailed and all the coast on this side run NNW-SSE. 4 1 have seen a 


i ne Voyage oj Christopher (Jolumbus 

good twenty leagues of the coast, but it went on further. Now, as 1 
write this, I have set sail with a south wind to press on around the 
whole island arid search until I find Samoet, which is the island or city 
where the gold is found, according to all the people who have boarded 
the ship here; the people on San Salvador and Santa Maria said the 

The people here are like those on the other two islands, with the 
same language and ways, except that these seem rather more civilized 
and subtle in their dealings; when they have brought cotton and other 
little things to the ship I have noticed that they are better at bargaining 
over the price than the others. Also I have noticed woven cotton cloths 
here like kerchiefs, and the people are more lively, and the women 
wear a little cotton thing in front which just covers their private part. 

The island is very green and flat, and extremely fertile; I can well 
believe that they sow and harvest millet 5 and their other crops the whole 
year round. I have seen many trees very unlike our own, many of them 
with a host of different branches emerging from the one trunk, one 
branch differing from another to such a degree that the variation is 
astonishing. For example, one branch had leaves like a cane and another 
leaves like a mastic tree, and on the same tree one finds five or six 
variations just as great. One cannot ascribe this to grafting; they have not 
been grafted, but are simply growing wild, untended by the people. 6 As 
far as I know the people have no religion. They would, I think, readily 
become Christians, for they are intelligent. 

The fish here show amazing differences from our own. Some are 
like cocks, with the handsomest colouring in the world: blue, yellow, 
red, all colours; others are marked in a thousand different ways. No 
man could look at them without amazement and delight, the colours 
are so beautiful. There are also whales. Ashore I have seen no animals 
of any kind; only parrots and lizards. A ship's boy told me he had seen 
a large snake. I have seen no sheep, goats or other beasts. I have not 
been here long, for it is only midday, but if there were any I could not 
have failed to see some of them. 

I will describe the circuit of this island when I have completed it. 

Wednesday, 17 October 

At midday I left the village where we had anchored and taken on water 
to sail around this island of Fernandina. Wind sw and s. It was my 
intention to follow the coast to the SE, for the whole coast runs NNW- 
SSE and I wanted to take that course, s and SE, because according to all 
these Indians I have on board, and another from whom I received 
directions, the island of Samoet, where the gold is, lies to the south. 
However, Martin Alonso Pinz6n, captain of the caravel Pinta, in 
which I had put three of the Indians, came to tell me that one of them 


The Journal 

had told him very clearly that he could sail round the island much 
more quickly by heading NNW. Seeing that the wind was unfavour- 
able for the course I had planned, and favourable for the other, I set sail 
to the NNW. As we approached the headland of the island, two leagues 
from it, I found a fine harbour with a mouth, or rather two mouths, 
both very narrow, for there is a small island in the middle, and enough 
space inside to take a hundred ships, given sufficient depth of water 
and clean anchorage, and enough depth at the mouth. 

I thought it wise to explore it properly and take soundings, so I 
anchored off the mouth and went in with all the ships' boats, and we 
found that there was no depth of water, I had thought when I first saw 
it that it was the mouth of a river, so I had had casks brought to take on 
water, and on land I found eight or ten men who came and showed us 
where the village was, close by. I sent the crew for water, some armed 
and others carrying the casks, and they came back with the water. 

As it was some distance away I had two hours to wait, and I spent 
them walking in the trees, the most beautiful sight ever seen: so much 
greenery, as green as May time in Andalusia, and the trees all as 
different from our own as night is from day, as is everything else, the 
fruits, the plants and the stones. Certain trees, it is true, were of a 
similar type to some which grow in Castile, but this only increased the 
variety, and there were so many of the other kinds that no one could 
list them, nor compare them to any in Castile. 

All the people are like the ones I have described earlier: the same 
appearance and height, and naked too. They exchanged their posses- 
sions for whatever one gave them; I saw some of the ship's boys giving 

17 October Hammock 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

them pieces of broken dishes and glass in exchange for darts. The men 
who went for the water told me that they had gone into the people's 
houses and found them very clean and well kept inside; the beds and 
containers are like nets made of cotton. 1 

The houses are shaped like a campaign tent, very high, with good 
chimneys, 2 but of the many villages I have seen none has exceeded 
twelve or fifteen houses. My men noticed that the married women 
here wear cotton breeches; not the girls, except a few aged about 
eighteen. There were mastiff dogs and hunting hounds, and one they 
saw had a piece of gold in its nose like half a castellano 3 with letters on 
it. I was angry with them for not having bargained for it and given 
whatever price was asked, so that we could have examined it and 
found out whose money it was; they told me they had not dared. 

I returned aboard with the water, made sail and set off to the NW, 
continuing until I had explored all that part of the island as far as the 
coast which runs E-w, at which point all the Indians told me again that 
this island was smaller than the island of Samoet and that it would be 
better to turn back so as to reach it more quickly. The wind then fell 
away and veered WNW, which was contrary for retracing our course, 
so I went about and sailed ESE all last night, sometimes due E and 
sometimes SE, to get away from the coast, because there were heavy 
clouds and the atmosphere was very close. 4 The [wind] was light 5 and 
did not enable us to reach land to anchor. 

After midnight it rained hard almost until dawn, and it is still cloudy 
and threatening rain. We are now off the southeastern cape, where I 
am hoping to anchor until it clears enough for me to see the other 
islands which I have to visit. There has been rain, light or heavy, every 
day since I arrived in the Indies. Rest assured, Your Majesties, that this 
land is the finest, most fertile, level, rich and temperate on the face of 
the earth. 

Thursday, 18 October 

When the weather cleared I followed the wind and sailed round the 

island as far as I could. When it was no longer suitable weather for 

sailing I anchored, but I did not go ashore, and at daybreak I made sail 


Friday, 19 October 

At daybreak I weighed anchor and sent the caravel Pinta off to the ESE, 
and the Nina SSE, and I in the Santa Maria 1 steered SE. I gave orders 
that they should stay on these courses until noon and then come about 
and sail back to rejoin me. After less than three hours' sailing we 
sighted an island to the E. We braced up and headed for it, and the three 
vessels reached it before noon at its northern point, where there is an 


The Journal 

islet and a reef running ofFit to the N, and another 2 between it and the 
island proper. The men from San Salvador whom I have on board told 
me that its name is Samoet; I have named it Isabela. 3 The wind was 
northerly, and the islet I mentioned is on course for the island of 
Fernandina, on a line E-W of my departure point from there. From the 
islet the coast ran westward^ for twelve and a half leagues to a 
headland. I have called the cape here at the western end Cabo 
Hermoso, 5 and it is indeed beautiful, round and with plenty of depth 
of water, with no shoals. The shore is of low rocks, changing to sandy 
beaches further in, which extend along most of this coast. I anchored 
there last night, Friday, until this morning. 

Nearly all the coast and the part of the island I have seen are sandy, 
and the island is the most beautiful sight I ever saw; the others are 
lovely, but this is lovelier. There are many tall, green trees, and the 
land is higher than on the other islands we have discovered, with a few 
hill tops -no thing one could call a mountain, but sufficient to make the 
rest more beautiful by contrast - and there appear to be numerous 
streams in the middle of the island. 

On this side the coast turns NE, forming a large bay, with many 
dense, tall woods. I tried to anchor in the bay, to go ashore and explore 
all this beauty, but the bottom was shoaly. I could only anchor well 
offshore, and there was a fair wind for this cape where I have now 
anchored, which I have called Cabo Hermoso, for beautiful it is. That 
was my reason for not anchoring in the bay, and I could see this cape 
from there, so green and fair, like all the land and everything else on 
these islands; I do not know where to go first, and my eyes never 
weary of seeing such marvellous vegetation, 'so different from our 

I have no doubt there must be many plants and trees which would 
be valuable in Spain for tinctures and medicinal spices, but I am very 
sorry to say that I am unfamiliar with them. As we neared this cape we 
were met by the soft, balmy smell of the trees and flowers ashore, the 
sweetest fragrance in the world. 

Before I sail tomorrow I shall go ashore to see what there is on the 
cape. The village is not here, but further inland; the men I have with 
me say the king lives there, and wears a lot of gold. In the morning I 
plan to go far enough to find the village and to see or speak with this 
king. The men I have with me tell me by signs that he rules all these 
neighbouring islands and wears clothes and has a lot of gold about 
him. I have no great faith in what they tell me, partly because of my 
difficulty in understanding them, but also because I know they have so 
little gold themselves that whatever small amount the king has will 
seem a lot to them. 

I believe that this cape I have called Cabo Hermoso is a separate 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

island from Samoet, and that there is another, smaller one in between. 
I do not wish to explore too much in detail, for I could not do it in fifty 
years; I wish to see and discover as much as I can, so as to return to 
Your Majesties, with God's grace, in April. If I find any quantity of 
gold or spices, I shall, of course, linger until I have gathered as much as 
I can; at present I can only keep moving until I come across them. 

Saturday, 20 October 

At daybreak today I weighed anchor off the southwest cape of this 
island of Samoet. I have called the island Isabela and the cape Cabo de 
la Laguna, 1 My intention was to sail to the northeast and east via the 
southeastern and southern part, where I understand from these men I 
have with me that the village and the king are to be found. I found so 
little depth of water that I could not get in or sail to it, and seeing that 
the route by the southwest was a long way round I decided to return 
on the course I had taken towards the NNE on the western side and to 
sail back round the island . . . 2 The wind was so light that I was unable 
to keep along the coast except at night, and since anchoring in these 
islands is perilous except in daylight when one can see where one is 
dropping anchor, for the bottom is all patchy, some clean and some 
foul, I sailed off and on all night. The caravels anchored because they 
made land sooner, and they expected me to go in to anchor in response 
to their usual signals, but I decided against it. 

Sunday, 21 October 

I reached this headland of the islet at ten o'clock and dropped anchor. 
The caravels did the same. After eating I went ashore, where the only 
habitation nearby was an empty house. All the household equipment 
was still inside, so I think the people must have run away in fear. I 
ordered nothing to be touched; instead I set off with my captains and 
the men to explore the island. The ones we have seen previously were 
beautifully green and fertile, but this one is much more so, with great 
woods, very green. There are large lagoons, and the woods along the 
shore and all around are a wonder to behold. Here and all over the 
island the trees and plants are as green as in Andalusia in April, and the 
song of the birds makes a man want never to leave. There are flocks of 
parrots so big that they darken the sun, and birds of amazing variety, 
very different from our own. The trees, too, are of a thousand kinds, 
each with its own fruit and pleasant fragrance; it grieves my heart not 
to recognize them, for I am sure they must all be useful. I am taking 
samples of them all, and of the plants. 

As we walked round one of the lagoons I saw a serpent 1 which we 
killed; I am bringing Your Majesties the skin. It jumped into the 
lagoon when it saw us and we chased it through the shallow water and 


The Journal 

21 October Iguana 

killed it with spears. /It is seven feet long, and a good foot across the 
belly./ 2 I think there must be many of them in this lagoon. I 
recognized aloe plants 3 here, and I have decided that tomorrow I will 
have ten quintals of it brought abroad, for I understand that it is 

While looking for water we went to a village nearby, half a league 
from where I am anchored. When the people heard us coming they left 
their houses and ran away, hiding their clothes and possessions in the 
undergrowth. I forbade the men to take even the smallest thing. Then 
some of the Indians approached us, and one came up to us. I gave him a 
few bells and glass beads, which pleased him very much, and in order 
to foster friendship and ask for something in return I had a request put 
to him for water. When I had returned to the ship they came down to 
the shore with their calabashes fall and gave us the water with signs of 
pleasure. I ordered them to be given another string of beads and they 
said they would return in the morning. 

I should like to fill all our water containers while we are here, and 
then, if I have time, I shall set off to sail round this island until I find 
and talk to the king, and see if I may obtain from him some of the gold 
which I am told he wears. Then I shall set off for another, very large 
island which I think must be Cipango, judging by the indications 
given me by these Indians I have on board. They call it Colba, 4 and say 
that there are many big ships there, and seafarers, 5 and that it is very 
large. From there I shall go to another island called Bohio, 6 also very 
large, according to them. The ones in between I shall observe in 
passing, and depending on what store of gold or spices I find I shall 
decide what to do. But I am still determined to continue to the 
mainland, to the city of Quinsay, and to give Your Majesties* letters to 
the Great Khan and return with his reply. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Monday, 22 October 

I have been waiting all last night and today to see if the king of this 
place or anyone else would bring me gold, or any other thing of 
importance. Many of the people have come, naked like those of the 
other island and painted in the same fashion, some white, some red, 
some black, in many different ways. They brought spears and some 
balls of cotton to barter with, and exchanged them with some of the 
crew for bits of glass, broken cups and pieces of earthenware dishes. 
Some of them were wearing little pieces of gold hanging from their 
noses; they were quite willing to exchange these for a sparrowhawk 
bell or a few glass beads, so insignificant as to be worthless, for really 
however little one gave them, they too were amazed by our arrival, 
and thought we were from Heaven. 

We took on water for the ships from a lagoon near here, beside the 
headland of what I have called the islet. Martin Alonso Pinzon, 
captain of the Pinta, killed another serpent, like yesterday's. 

Tuesday, 23 October 

I should like to sail today for the island of Cuba, which I believe to be 
Cipango from the description these people give me of its size and 
riches, and I shall wait here no longer, nor shall I go round the island to 
the village as I intended, to speak with the king or leader. I do not wish 
to waste a lot of time, for I can see that there is no mine of gold here, 
and sailing around these islands needs many shifts of wind, which does 
not always blow to suit a man's wishes. 

It is only sensible to go where there is good potential for trade. To 
my mind there is no point in lingering when one can set off and 
explore a large area until one finds a country which offers profit, 
although I do believe that the place where we are now may provide an 
abundance of spices. It is a source of great regret to me that I know so 
little about spices, for I see an enormous variety of fruit-bearing trees, 
all as green as the trees in Spain in May and June, and many kinds of 
plants and flowers, and the only one we have recognized so far is this 
aloe, of which I have had a large quantity brought on board today to 
bring to Your Majesties. 

I have not yet set sail for Cuba for lack of wind; we have a flat calm 
and heavy rain. Yesterday too it rained hard, but it was not cold; in fact 
the days are warm and the nights balmy, like May in Spain, in 

Wednesday, 24 October 

At midnight last night I weighed anchor from where I was lying off 
the headland of the islet, on the north of the island of Isabela, and set 
sail for Cuba, which these people have told me is very large and busy, 


The Journal 

with gold and spices, and large ships and merchants. They told me I 
could reach it by sailing wsw, which I think is true; for if this is the 
case, as all the Indians on these islands and those I have on board tell me 
(by signs, for I cannot understand their language), I believe it to be the 
island of Cipango, of which such wonders are told, and which lies in 
this region on the globes and the maps of the world which I have seen. 

So I sailed wsw until daybreak, when the wind dropped and it 
rained, as it had done much of the night. 1 There was very little wind 
until afternoon, when a breeze got up, fair and kindly, and I set all sail: 
maincourse with two bonnets, forecourse, spritsail, mizzen and 
topsail, and the boat's sail on the sterncastle. I continued on the same 
course until nightfall, when we were in sight of the Cabo Verde, the 
western headland of the southern part of Fernandina. It lay seven and a 
half leagues away to the northwest. It was blowing hard, and not 
knowing the distance to the island of Cuba I did not wish to seek it at 
night; all these islands are very steep-to all around, with no bottom 
until one is within a couple of lombard shots of the shore, and the 
bottom is foul, part rocky and part sandy, so that the only way one can 
anchor safely is by using one's eyes. 

I decided to shorten sail to the forecourse. The wind was soon 
blowing up much stronger, with heavy cloud and rain, and we were 
sailing too fast for my peace of mind, so I had the forecourse furled and 
in the night we sailed less than two leagues /. . ./ 2 

Thursday, 25 October 

We sailed wsw from sunrise until nine o'clock, about five and a half 
leagues, then altered course to w. Sailed at six and a half knots until 
one in the afternoon and from then until three, making about thirty- 
five miles. We then sighted land, seven or eight islands, all in a line 
from north to south, about five leagues away /. . ,/ ! 

Friday, 26 October 

We were off these islands, to the south. It was all shallow for five or six 
leagues, and I anchored. The Indians on the ship said that it takes a day 
and a half from there to Cuba in their almadias, which are small vessels 
made from a single piece of timber, with no sail. 1 1 set sail again for 
Cuba, because judging by the signs made by the Indians about its size, 
and the gold and pearls there, I believe it to be Cipango. 

Saturday, 27 October 

At sunrise I weighed anchor from these islands, which I have called the 
Islas de Arena 1 because of the shallows extending six leagues to the 
south of them. Sailed ssw at six and a half knots until one o'clock, 
about thirty-two miles, and from then until nightfall about twenty- 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

two miles on the same course. We sighted land before dark, and spent 
the whole night jogging off and on because of heavy rain. Sailed 
eighteen leagues ssw by sunset. 

Sunday, 28 October 

I sailed ssw for the nearest point of the island of Cuba, and into a fine 
river free from shallows and other perils. The sea along the whole 
coast along which I sailed is deep right up to the shore, with a clean 
bottom. There is twelve fathoms' depth 1 in the mouth of the river, 
and it is good and wide for tacking. /There are two beautiful high 
mountains, like the Pena de los Enamorados, near Granada, and one of 
them has another little hill on the top shaped like a handsome 
mosque./ 2 I anchored inside the river, a lombard shot in from the 

I never saw a lovelier sight: trees everywhere, lining the river, green 
and beautiful. They are not like our own, and each has its own flowers 
and fruit. Numerous birds, large and small, singing away sweetly. 
There are large numbers of palm trees, different from our own and 
those in Guinea; they are of medium height, without the skirt round 
the base; the leaves are very large, and are used to thatch the houses. 
The land is very level. 

I jumped into the boat and went ashore, and found two houses 
which I think belonged to fishermen, who fled in fear. In one of them 
was a dog which did not bark. In both houses I found nets of palm 
fibre, ropes, horn fish hooks, bone harpoons and other fishing 
equipment. I think many people must live together in each house. I 
gave orders for everything to be left alone, and nothing was touched. 
The grass is as long as in April and May in Andalusia, and I found 
quantities of purslane and spinach. 3 

I returned to the ship and sailed a good way upriver. It is a joy to see 
all the woods and greenery, and it is difficult to give up watching all 
the birds and come away. It is the most beautiful island ever seen, full 
of fine harbours and deep rivers. It appears that the sea must never be 
rough, for the grass on the beach comes down almost to the shoreline, 
which is not the case where there are rough seas. So far I have 
encountered no heavy seas anywhere in these islands. 

There are splendid mountains everywhere on the island, not very 
long, but high, and the rest of the land is similar in height to Sicily. There 
are rivers and streams all over it, as far as I can gather from the Indians I 
brought with me from Guanahani. They tell me there are ten large rivers 
and they cannot sail round the island in their canoes 4 in twenty days. As 
our ships were approaching land two almadias or canoes came out 
towards us, but they fled when they saw the crew getting into the boat 
and rowing to look at the bottom of the river for an anchorage. 



The Indians tell me that there are gold mines and pearls on this 
island, and I saw a likely spot for pearls, with clams, which are a sign 
of them. I understand that large vessels belonging to the Great Khan 
come here, and that the passage to the mainland takes ten days. I have 
called this river and harbour San Salvador. 5 

Monday, 29 October 

I weighed anchor and sailed westward to look for the city where the 
Indians, I think, tell me that the king is to be found. The island has one 
headland six and a half leagues to my NW, and another eleven leagues 
E. After sailing a league I saw another river with a smaller mouth, 
which I called Rio de la Luna, 1 and we sailed on until vespers. I saw 
another river, much bigger than the others, to judge by the signs made 
by the Indians, and nearby there were good-sized villages. I have 
called the river Rio de Mares. 2 

I sent two boats to a village to make contact, one of them with one 
of the Indians from the ship. We can understand them a little now, and 
they seem happy enough to be with us. All the men, women and 
children ran away from the boats, leaving their houses and all their 
possessions unguarded. I gave orders that nothing should be touched. 

The houses are better looking than the ones we have seen so far, and 
I expect the closer I come to the mainland the better they will be. They 
are built in the shape of a campaign tent, very large, and arranged not 
in streets but haphazardly, like tents in an army encampment. They 
are clean and well swept inside, with all their equipment neatly 
arranged. The houses are all made of beautiful palm branches. 

29 October Indian house 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

We found many statues in the shape of a woman, and finely carved 
heads like masks. I do not know if they are for decoration or worship. 
There were dogs which never barked, and wild birds living tame in 
the houses, and wonderfully crafted fishing nets and hooks and other 
fishing gear. None of this was touched. I think all these people on the 
coast must be fishermen who take their catch inland, for the island is 
very large. It is so beautiful that I could go on and on in its praise. I 
found trees with wonderfully flavoured fruit, and there must be cows 
and other domestic animals, for I saw skulls like those of cattle. The 
birds, large and small, and the song of the crickets in the night are a 
great joy to us all; the night air is sweet and fragrant, neither too hot 
nor too cold. We had very hot weather coming from the other islands 
to this one, but here it is warm and pleasant, like May. The other 
islands were probably hot because they are very flat, and because as we 
were coming here we had easterly winds, which are warm. 

The water in the rivers here is brackish near the mouth. I do not 
know where the Indians get their water; they have fresh water in their 
houses. Ships could tack about to enter and leave this river, and there 
are very clear leading marks. There is seven or eight fathoms* depth at 
the mouth and five inside. I think this whole sea must always be as 
calm as the river at Seville, and the water seems perfect for pearls. I 
found some large snails, different from those in Spain, with no taste. 

On the SE side of this river and harbour where we are now lying 
there are two round mountains, and to the WNW is a fine level 

Tuesday, 30 October 

Sailed NW from the river Mares. After sixteen leagues I sighted a 
headland covered in palm trees and called it Cabo de Palmas. * The 
Indians on the caravel Pinta said that beyond the cape there is a river, 
and from the river to Cuba is a four-day journey. The captain of the 
Pinta said that he understood them to mean that this Cuba is a city, and 
that this is the mainland, running far to the north, and the king is at 
war with the Great Khan, whom they call Cami, and his country or 
city is called Fava, and they gave many other names. 2 

I have decided to sail to this river, and to send a gift to the king with 
Your Majesties* letter. I have a seaman for this purpose who has done 
the same task in Guinea, and some of the Indians from Guanahani are 
willing to go with him, provided that I take them back to their own 
land afterwards. 

We are, I think, forty-two degrees north of the equinoctial line. 3 I 
am going to make every effort to find the Great Khan, who I believe is 
not far away, or reach the city of Cathay which belongs to him, and is 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

they are at war with the Great Khan. They call him Cavila, and the 
province Bafan. They go about naked, like the others. 

This river is very deep, and at the mouth the ships can berth right up 
to the shore. It is brackish up to a league upriver, and above that the 
water is very sweet. I am sure that this is the mainland, and that 
Zayton and Quinsay lie ahead of us, each about a hundred leagues 
from here. This is evident from the sea, which is flowing differently 
from previously, and sailing NW yesterday I found that it was cold. 

Friday, 2 November 

I decided to send off two of my men, Rodrigo de Jerez, from 
Ayamonte, and Luis de Torres, who used to be with the Captain- 
General of Murcia and was once a Jew, and knows Hebrew and 
Chaldean and even Arabic. I sent two Indians with them, one from 
among those I brought from Guanahani and another from the houses 
by the river /who had come out to the ships in a little canoe./ 1 1 gave 
them strings of beads to buy food if they need it and told them to come 
back in six days. I also gave them samples of spices with instructions to 
look out for more of them. 

I told them how to make enquiries after the king of this land, and 
what they are to say on behalf of the King and Queen of Spain, who 
have sent me to hand over their letters with a gift so as to learn of his 
status and make friends with him and assist him in whatever he may 
require of us. They are also to find out about certain areas and 
harbours and rivers of which I am informed, and their distance from 
here, etc. 

I took a sighting of the altitude of the Pole Star tonight with a 
quadrant and found that we are forty-two degrees N of the equinoctial 
line. 2 By my reckoning we have sailed 1,317 leagues from the island of 
Hierro to this mainland. 

Saturday, j November 

In the morning I got into the boat and, because the mouth of the river 
forms a great lagoon, an exceptionally fine harbour, deep and free 
from rocks, with a good beach for careening ships and plenty of 
timber, I went upriver as far as the fresh water, about two leagues. I 
climbed a little hill to see something of the lie of the land, but I could 
see nothing for great woods. They were fresh and full of pleasant 
odours, and I am sure they must contain aromatic herbs. I could never 
tire of looking at all this beauty or of hearing the song of the birds. 

Many canoes came to the ship today to exchange cotton thread and 
the nets in which the people sleep. 1 


The Journal 

del Quadrance. 

2 November Quadrant 

Sunday, 4 November 

Immediately after daybreak I went ashore in the boat to catch some 
of the birds I saw yesterday. On my return Martin Alonso Pinzon 
brought me two pieces of cinnamon, and told me that a Portuguese 
sailor on his ship had seen an Indian with two big bundles of it, but had 
not dared to barter for it because I had said that I would punish anyone 
who engaged in barter. The Indian was also carrying red things like 
walnuts, and the bosun of the Pinta said he had found two cinnamon 
trees, but when I went to look I found that they were not. I showed 
some of the local Indians cinnamon and pepper, 1 which they 
recognized; they made signs to me that there is plenty of it to the SE 
of here. 

I also showed them gold and pearls, and some of the old ones told 
me that in a place called Bohio there are endless quantities of gold, and 
the people wear it around their necks and arms and legs and in their 
ears, and pearls too. I also understood them to say that there are large 
ships and a trade in goods, all to the SE, and that a long way away there 
are men with one eye, and others with noses like dogs who eat human 
flesh; when they capture someone they cut his throat and drink his 
blood and cut off his private parts. 

I decided to return to the ship to wait for the two men I sent off, and 
to go in search of these lands, unless they bring good news of what we 
are seeking. The people here are very timid and gentle, naked as I have 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

described, with no weapons and no religion. 2 The land is very rich, 
and is planted up with niames, 3 which are like carrots and taste of 
chestnuts, and they also have various kinds of beans, quite different 
from our own, and plenty of cotton, not sown but growing wild. I 
think it must be there for the picking all the time, for I have seen the 
open heads and others just opening and the flowers all on the same 
bush. There are hundreds of other kinds of fruit, more than I can 
describe, and it must all be useful. 

Monday, 5 November 

At daybreak I had the ship careened and ordered the others to do the 
same, but not all at once, so that for safety's sake there would always 
be two where we were anchored; not that there is any danger from 
these people, and all three ships could be careened at the same time 
without any risk. While the ship was careened the bosun of the Nina 
came to ask for a reward 1 because he had found some mastic, 2 but he 
did not bring me a sample because he had dropped it. I promised him 
his reward and sent Rodrigo Sanchez and Master Diego to the trees 
and they brought me a little of the mastic and also a sample of the tree. 
We recognized it as mastic, although it has to be gathered in due 
season, and there is enough here to yield a thousand quintals a year. I 
have also noticed many of what I think are aloe plants. 3 

The harbour of Mares is one of the finest in the world, with the best 
climate and the gentlest people. It has a rocky headland, slightly 
elevated, on which one could build a fortress, so that if this place turns 
out to be productive and commercially important merchants from all 
over the world will be safe here. May Our Lord, in whose hands all 
victory lies, so dispose all things that they may be of service to Him. 

An Indian told me by signs that the mastic is good for stomach ache. 

Tuesday, 6 November 

The two men I sent inland to explore came back last night and told me 
they had gone twelve leagues when they reached a village of fifty 
houses. There were about a thousand inhabitants, for they live many 
to a house. The houses are like big campaign tents. The men said they 
were received with great ceremony, according to the customs of the 
place. Everyone, men and women, came to see them, and they were 
lodged in the best houses. The people kept touching them and kissing 
their hands and feet in amazement, thinking they had come from 
Heaven, and so they gave them to understand. They were given food, 
and they told me that when they arrived the foremost men in the 
village led them by the arm to the most important house and sat them 
on /curious chairs, carved out of a single piece of wood in the shape of 
an animal with short arms and legs and its tail raised a little to form a 


The Journal 

backrest, though this is as broad as the seat to give comfortable 
support; there is a head in front with eyes and ears of gold. They call 
these chairs All the men sat around them on the ground. The 
Indian who was with my men told them about our way of life, saying 
that we were good people. Then all the men went out and the women 
came in and sat around them in the same way, kissing their hands and 
feet and touching them to see if they were flesh and blood like 
themselves. /They gave them some cooked roots to eat which tasted 
like chestnuts./ 2 They invited them to stay for at least five days. 

My men showed them the cinnamon and pepper and other spices 
which I had given them, and were told by signs that there were plenty 
of spices nearby to the SE, but they did not know if there were any in 
the place itself. 

Seeing that there were no great cities, my men came back. If they 
had allowed everyone to accompany them who wanted to, more than 
five hundred men and women would have come, thinking they were 
returning to Heaven. However, one important man of the village 
came with them, and his son and one of his men. I talked to them and 
received them with honour, and he told me about many lands and 
islands in these parts. I thought of bringing them back to Your 
Majesties, but for some reason, probably through fear and the 
darkness of the night, he took it into his head to leave the ship. Not 
wishing to distress him, and because I had the ship high and dry, I let 
him go. He said he would come back at daybreak, but he did not 

My two men met many people crossing their path to reach their 
villages, men and women, carrying in their hand a burning brand and 
herbs which they use to produce fragrant smoke. 3 They came across 
no village of more than five houses, and they were treated with the 
same attention by all the people. They saw many kinds of trees, plants 
and scented flowers, and birds of many varieties, different from those 
of Spain, except that there were partridges, and nightingales singing, 
and geese; of these there are plenty. They saw no four-footed beasts 
except silent dogs. The land is very fertile and well worked, with 
niames and varieties of beans, very unlike our own; also millet and a 
great amount of cotton, picked, spun and woven. In one house they 
saw more than 500 arrobas of it, and they say that in a good year there 
could be 4, ooo quintals. I do not think the people sow it; it produces all 
the year round, and is very fine with a large head. 

They give whatever they have for the most miserable price; a big 
basket of cotton for a lace end, or whatever else one offers them. They 
are a most innocent and unwarlike people; men and women go about 
as naked as they were born. The women do wear a little cotton thing, 
just big enough to cover their private part and no more. They are 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

good-looking, not very dark, in fact paler than the women on the 

I am quite sure, Your Most Serene Majesties, that if devout 
religious people knew their language well they would all readily be 
converted to Christianity, so I trust in Our Lord that Your Majesties 
will decide to make a resolute effort to convert these large populations 
and bring them into the Church, as you have destroyed those who 
refused to acknowledge the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; and 
that when your own days are done (for we are all mortal flesh) you will 
leave your realms in peace and cleansed of heresy and evil, and be 
received before the throne of the eternal Creator, who I pray will grant 
you a long life and a great increase in your kingdoms and territories, 
and the will and desire to increase the Holy Religion of Christianity, as 
you have done until now, Amen. 

I refloated the ship today and am making haste to set off on 
Thursday in the name of God to sail to the southeast in search of gold 
and spices and to discover new land. 4 

Monday, 12 November 

At the end of the dawn watch we left the harbour of the river Mares to 
sail to an island which the Indians on board have told me is called 
Babeque, 1 where according to their signs the people gather gold on 
the beach at night with torches and then beat it into bars with a 
hammer. To find it we must head E by s. /It is a little cold, and it would 
be unwise to sail north with winter coming on. / 2 

Eight and a half leagues along the coast I found a river, and four 
leagues further on a second one, bigger than any of the others. I 
decided not to stop and sail into either of them for two reasons: the 
first and most important is that I have fair wind and weather for sailing 
in search of Babeque; the second is that if there were any large or 
notable city on the lower reaches we would see it, and to explore 
upriver would require smaller vessels than ours, and so much time 
would be lost. Such rivers as these deserve special exploration on their 
own. This whole area is populated, especially near the river, which I 
have called the Rio del Sol. 3 

Yesterday, Sunday, 1 1 November, I thought it a good idea to take 
some of the people from the river to convey them to Your Majesties, 
so that they may learn our language and tell us what there is in their 
country, and learn our customs and matters of the Faith, and interpret 
for our people when they return, for I can see from my own 
observations that these people have no religion, nor are they idolators. 
They are gentle, and do not know the meaning of evil, nor killing, nor 
taking prisoners; they have no weapons and are so timid that one of 
our men can frighten away a hundred of them, just as a joke. They are 



ready to believe; they acknowledge that there is a God in Heaven, and 
are convinced that that is where we have come from, and they are 
quick to recite any prayer we tell them to say, and to make the sign of 
the cross. 

Your Majesties should therefore determine to convert them to 
Christianity, for I believe that once this is begun a host of peoples will 
soon be converted to our Holy Faith, and great domains and their 
wealth and all their peoples will be won for Spain, for there is no doubt 
that these lands hold enormous quantities of gold. Not for nothing do 
the Indians I have on board tell us that there are places on these islands 
where they dig up the gold and wear it in their ears and round their 
necks and arms and legs, thick bands of it, and there are also precious 
stones and pearls and endless spices. 

On the river Mares, which I left last night, there is certainly a great 
amount of mastic, and it could be increased if more were wanted, for 
these trees take easily if re-planted and there are plenty of them, very 
large, with leaves and fruit like the mastic tree, but both tree and fruit 
are bigger, as Pliny tells us. 4 I have seen many of these trees on the 
island of Chios, in the archipelago, and I had some of them tapped to 
see if they would give some sap to take away. It rained all the time I 
was in that river, so I was unable to gather any except a small amount 
which I am bringing to Your Majesties. It may also be that this is the 
wrong season for tapping them, which I think is best done when the 
trees are emerging from winter and preparing to flower; here the fruit 
is almost ripe. 

One could also obtain great quantities of cotton, which I think 
could very well be sold here (rather than taking it to Spain) in the cities 
of the Great Khan which will no doubt be discovered, and in many of 
those of the other princes who will be pleased to serve Your Majesties, 
where they will be given goods from Spain and the lands of the east 
(for to us these lands are in the west). There is also an endless supply of 
aloes, though this is not something to make a fortune out of, whereas 
the mastic is really worthy of attention, being found only on the island 
of Chios which I have mentioned. They make a good 50,000 ducats 
from it there, if I remember rightly. 

Moreover, the mouth of the river I have described is the finest 
harbour I ever saw, broad and deep and clean-bottomed, with a good 
location and site for building a town and a fortress where ships of all 
kinds could berth alongside the walls, and the land is high and 
temperate, with good fresh water. 

A canoe came alongside us yesterday with six young men. Five of 
them came aboard, and I ordered them to be seized and have brought 
them away with me. I then sent men to a house on the west side of the 
river, and they brought back seven females, 5 some young and some 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

adult, with three children. I did this because men behave better in 
Spain when they have women of their own land with them than when 
they are deprived of them. Men have often been taken from Guinea to 
Portugal to learn the language, and given good treatment and gifts, 
and when they were taken back with a view to employing them in 
their own country they went ashore and were never seen again. 
Others behaved differently. If they have their women they will be 
eager to take on whatever duties one asks of them, and the women 
themselves will be good for teaching our people 6 their language, 
which is the same throughout all these islands of India. They all 
understand each other, and go about from island to island in their 
canoes; quite differently from in Guinea, where there are a thousand 
different languages, incomprehensible to one another. 

Last night the husband of one of these women, the father of the 
three children, a boy and two girls, came out to the ship in a canoe and 
asked me to take him with them, which I was very pleased to do. They 
are all happier now, so it appears that they are all related. The man is 
about forty-five. 

By sunset today, Monday, I have sailed nineteen leagues E by s, and 
have reached a headland which I have named Cabo de Cuba. 

Tuesday j 13 November 

I spent all last night tacking to and fro because I had sighted a division 
between one range of mountains and another. It was sighted just at 
sunset, when we could see two enormous mountains, and appeared to 
be the division between the land of Cuba and that of Bohio, which is 
what the Indians on board told me by signs. When it was clear day I 
filled away for the land, passing a point which appeared about two 
leagues off in the night, and entered a great gulf five leagues to the 
ss w, and it was another five leagues to the cape where there was a gap 
between two large hills. I could not tell if it was an arm of the sea. 1 

My aim was to sail to the island called Babeque, which lies to the 
east, and I could see no great settlement which would justify my 
fighting my way into a wind 2 which was now blowing up stronger 
than anything we had experienced so far, so I decided to gain sea-room 
and sail E with the northerly wind. We were running at six and a half 
knots, and from changing course at ten in the morning until sunset we 
made forty-four and a half miles E, or fifteen leagues, from the Cabo 
de Cuba. 

Of the coast of the other island, Bohio, which we had to leeward, I 
explored sixty-four miles, or twenty-one leagues, from the cape of the 
gulf I have mentioned. The whole coast runs from ESE to WNW. 


The Journal 

Wednesday, 14 November 

I spent all last night jogging off and on; it is senseless to sail among 
these islands at night without exploring them first, and the Indians on 
board told me yesterday that it would be three days* sailing from the 
river Mares to the island of Babeque, that is to say three days in their 
canoes, which can make seven leagues a day. Also the wind was not 
what I needed 1 and I could only head E by s instead of due E as I wished. 
[. . .] 2 At sunrise I decided to seek a harbour, the wind having veered 
from N to NE, and if I had not found one I should have had to go back to 
the ones I left in Cuba. 

After sailing nineteen miles E by s in the night and [. . .] miles s, I 
reached land, where I saw many inlets and small islands and harbours, 
but with the strength of the wind and the heavy sea I did not dare 
attempt to sail into them. I therefore ran NW by w along the coast in 
search of a haven, and saw many, but none very accessible. After 
sailing fifty-one miles in this fashion I found a deep channel, a third of 
a mile wide, with a good river and harbour, into which I sailed. I put 
our bows to the ssw and then to the s and eventually to the SE, finding 
a good breadth and depth of water everywhere. 

Here I found innumerable islands, of a good size and very lofty, 
covered with all kinds of trees and countless palms. I was amazed to 
see so many islands, all so mountainous. I assure Your Majesties that 
the mountains I have seen since the day before yesterday along these 
coasts and on these islands must be higher and lovelier and clearer than 
any in the world, with no mist or snow, and a great depth of water at 
their feet. These must, I think, be those islands without number which 
men depict in the farthest orient on their maps of the world. I believe 
they hold great riches, precious stones and spices, and that they stretch 
far to the south and spread out in all directions. 

I am calling this the Mar de Nuestra Senora, 3 and the harbour near 
the channel leading to these islands Puerto del Principe. 4 Do not be 
surprised, Your Majesties, that I am so lavish in my praise; I assure 
you that I do not think I am telling you a hundredth part of it all. Some 
of the islands seem to reach the sky, and their tops are like the points of 
diamonds; others climb up to a sort of high, high plateau, and at their 
feet there is such an immense depth of water that a great carrack could 
berth hard alongside them; no rocky outcrops, and woods every- 

Thursday, 15 November 

I decided to explore these islands in the ships' boats. [. . .] 1 I found 
mastic trees and endless aloe plants. Some of the islands are tilled and 
planted with the roots from which the Indians make their bread, and I 
found traces of fires here and there. I found no fresh water. There were 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

a few people, who ran away. Everywhere I went I found fifteen or 
sixteen fathoms of water, and the bottom is clean sand everywhere. 2 

Friday, 16 November 

I am leaving a cross planted everywhere I land in these islands and 
territories. I therefore went ashore in the boat at the channel leading 
into these harbours, and on a spit of land I found two large timbers, 
one longer than the other, lying across one another in the shape of a 
cross, as precisely as any carpenter could have placed them. We knelt 
before them in prayer, and I have ordered a great high cross to be made 
using the two timbers. 

I found canes on the shore, but I could not see where they were 
growing. I think some river must bring them down and deposit them 
on the shore. 1 I went to a cove 2 inside the harbour entrance on the 
southeastern side, where there is a kind of high headland with rocky 
outcrops, and a great depth of water below it. The largest carrack in 
the world could berth hard up to it, and there is a little corner where six 
ships could lie without anchors as if they were inside a hall. 3 It would 
be a very easy place to build a fortress if this sea full of islands should 
ever turn out to be a great trading place. When I returned to the ship I 
found my Indians fishing for large sea snails. I ordered the men to go 
into the sea with them to see if there were any ndcaras, which are the 
oysters which produce pearls, 4 and they found many of them, but no 
pearls. It must not be the season for them, which I think is May and 

The men found an animal like a badger. 5 They also did some fishing 
with nets and caught large numbers offish, including one just like a 
pig, different from a tunny. It has a stiff shell all over it; the only soft 
parts are its eyes and tail and a hole underneath through which it voids 
itself. I am having it salted to bring to show Your Majesties. 

Saturday, 1 7 November 

I set off in the boat in the morning to explore the island on the 
southwestern side which I had not yet seen. I saw many more, all 
green and pleasant, and found a great depth of water in between them. 
Some of them are separated by channels of fresh water; it must be 
flowing from springs high in the mountains. As I continued I found a 
most beautiful river of fresh water, flowing very cold because of its 
shallowness, and beside it a fair meadow with many lofty palm trees, 
the tallest I have seen so far. 

I found large nuts, of the kind which grow in India, 1 and big rats 2 
like the ones in India, 3 and some huge crabs. There were great 
numbers of birds, and a strong odour of musk; I am sure there must 
be some here. 


The Journal 

Today the two eldest of the six young men I captured on the river 
Mares escaped. I had transferred them to the Nina. 

Sunday, 18 November 

I went ashore again in the boats with a large number of the ship's 
company to set up the great cross I have had made from the two pieces 
of timber at the mouth of the channel into the Puerto del Principe. We 
placed it in a space free from trees where it can be clearly seen. It is very 
tall and looks very fine. 

The sea rises and falls much more here than in any other harbour I 
have seen in these waters, which is not surprising since there are so 
many islands. The tides are contrary to our own, for with the moon in 
the sw by s it is low tide here. 1 

I did not sail, today being Sunday. 

Monday , ig November 

I set sail before sunrise, in a calm. Light winds from the E at midday, 
and I sailed NNE. At sunset Puerto del Principe was about seven 
leagues away to the ssw. Sighted the island of Babeque about fifty 
miles due E. Sailed all night just N of NE, about forty-eight miles, and 
another nine and a half by ten o'clock in the morning; total nineteen 
leagues NE by N. 

Tuesday, 20 November 

Babeque, or the islands of Babeque, lay ESE, right upwind of us, and 
seeing that there was no change in the wind and the sea was rising I 
decided to return to Puerto del Principe, from which I had come, 
twenty-six and a half leagues away. I did not go to the small island 
which I named Isabela, thirteen leagues away, where I could have 
gone to anchor today, for two reasons: first I had sighted two islands 
to the s which I wanted to see; and secondly I did not want the Indians I 
captured in Guanahani, which I called San Salvador, to escape, for it is 
only eight and a half leagues from Isabela. I have need of them, and 
mean to take them to Castile [. . . ] * They think that when I have found 
gold I am going to let them return home. 

We came close to Puerto del Principe but could not get in, it being 
night and the strong currents taking us NW. We went about and 
steered NE with a strong wind, which lessened and changed in the 
third watch, when we headed E by N. The wind was SSE and at dawn 
veered s, with a little E in it. At sunrise I took a bearing on Puerto del 
Principe and found it sw, westerly, about thirty-eight miles away, or 
twelve and a half leagues. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Wednesday, 21 November 

I sailed E at sunrise with the wind s. Made only a small distance because 
of the contrary sea, nineteen miles by the hour of vespers. The wind 
then backed to E and we sailed $ by E, nine and a half miles by sunset. 
I took a sight and found us forty-two degrees to the north of the 
equinoctial line, the same as in the harbour of Mares, but I have now 
hung up my quadrant until we reach port where I can have it adjusted; 
we cannot be so far north. 1 1 am disturbed by finding the Pole Star as 
high as in Castile; it is too warm for that.^ The heat makes me think 
that these islands and the area through which I am sailing must contain 
a lot of gold. 

Today Martin Alonso Pinzon has sailed away on his own in the 
Pinta without my permission, moved by greed. He believes that an 
Indian I ordered him to take aboard his ship will give him a lot of gold. 
He went without waiting, not through stress of weather but because 
he chose to. He has gone against me in word and deed many times 

Thursday, 22 November 

On Wednesday night I sailed s by E with the wind E, almost calm. In 
the third watch the wind backed NNE. I continued s to see the land 
which lies in that quarter, and at sunrise I found the land as far away as 
the day before, thirty-two miles, because of the adverse currents. Last 
night Martin Alonso Pinzon sailed on E for the island of Babeque, 
where the Indians say there are large amounts of gold. He was in sight 
about thirteen miles from us. I stayed on course for the land all night, * 
and I shortened sail and had a lantern hoisted because I thought he was 
sailing towards us; it was a bright, clear night with a favourable wind 
for rejoining us. 

Friday, 23 November 

Sailed s all day in light winds towards the land, set back all the time by 

the current, so that we were further from land at sunset than in the 

morning. The wind was ENE, a fair enough wind for sailing s, but 


Close on this cape lies another land or cape, also running E. The 
Indians call it Bohio, and say it is very large and inhabited by another 
people with one eye in their forehead, and others whom they call 
cannibals, of whom they are very afraid. When they saw that we were 
sailing on this course they could not speak; the people eat them, and 
are very well armed. I believe there is some truth in this, but if they are 
armed they must be people of intelligence. I think they must have 
taken some captives, and when they did not return it was probably 
thought that they had been eaten. The Indians thought the same thing 


The Journal 

about me and the ship's company when some of them saw us for the 
first time. 

Saturday, 24 November 

Sailed on all night, and in the morning at the hour of terce reached the 
flat island, 1 in the same place as last week on our way to Babeque. At 
first I did not dare approach the land, for it appeared that the sea was 
very rough in that division between the mountains. At last we reached 
the Mar de Nuestra Senora, the one with the many islands, and 
entered the harbour 2 at the mouth of the channel to the islands. If I had 
known of this harbour at first and had not spent time exploring the 
islands in the Mar de Nuestra Senora, it would not have been 
necessary to turn back, although my time exploring the islands was 
not wasted. 

On reaching land I sent the boat to take soundings in the harbour, 
and they found a good bar and a depth of between six and twenty 
fathoms, all clean sand. I sailed in with our bows to the sw and then 
turned w, with the flat island to the N. This island and another form a 
sea lagoon which would hold the whole Spanish fleet without 
hawsers, safe from every wind that blew. 

This entrance on the southeastern side, which can be entered with 
one's bows heading ssw, has a way out, very wide and deep, at its 
western end, so that one can sail between the islands. To assist anyone 
coming from the north, which is the course for this coast, 3 to 
recognize the islands, they lie at the foot of a great long mountain 
which runs E w, longer and higher than any of the others on this coast, 
which has many of them, and outside them is a reef running parallel to 
the mountain, like a bar as far as the entrance. All this is on the 
southeastern side, and there is another reef on the same side as the flat 
island, though this one is smaller, and between the two there is ample 
width and depth, as I have explained. 

Later, at the entrance on the southeastern side, within the harbour 
itself, we saw a large and beautiful river, with more water in it than 
any we have seen hitherto, and it is fresh water down to the mouth. 
There is a bank at the mouth, but inside there is a depth of eight or nine 
fathoms. It is all surrounded by palm trees and woods like the others. 

Sunday, 25 November 

Before sunrise I went in the boat to look at a cape or point of land to the 
southeast of the flat island, about a league and a half away, where I 
thought there must be another good river. A couple of crossbow shots 
after doubling the cape, on its southeastern side, I found a large and 
beautiful stream of water rushing noisily down from a mountain. I 
went to the river and saw stones glittering in it, with patches of golden 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

colour in them, and I recalled that gold was found in the river Tagus at 
its junction with the sea. I felt sure this river must contain gold, and I 
ordered some of the stones to be gathered to bring home to Your 

While this was happening some of the ship's boys shouted that they 
could see pine woods. I looked up into the mountains and saw the 
trees, tall and splendid, bigger and straighter than I can well describe, 
like thick and thin spindles, and now I know that ships could be built 
here; there is an endless supply of planking and masts for the biggest 
ships in Spain. I saw oak and strawberry trees, and a good river and 
materials for water-powered sawmills. 

The land and the breezes are cooler than hitherto, because of the 
height of these beautiful mountains. On the shore I saw many other 
stones the colour of iron, and others which some of the crew said had 
come from silver mines, all washed down by the river. I had a 
mizzenmast and yard cut for the Nina. 

We came to the mouth of the river and into an inlet at the foot of the 
cape on the southeastern side, very wide and deep, the finest harbour a 
man ever saw; a hundred ships could lie there without mooring ropes 
or anchors. The mountains are very high, with many beautiful 
streams running down, and all the hills are covered in pine trees, and 
there are the most lovely and varied woods everywhere. We left 
another two or three rivers behind us. 

It has given me incalculable pleasure and joy, Your Majesties, to see 
all this, especially the pine trees, for one could build as many ships here 
as one wished if one brought in the equipment; wood is here in plenty 
and pitch could be easily made. I am not giving it the hundredth part of 
the praise it deserves; it has pleased Our Lord always to show me 
something finer than before, and in all my discoveries things have 
grown better and better: the lands, the woods, the plants, the fruit and 
flowers, and the people; always different, wherever I have gone. I am 
full of wonder at the sight of it; how much more wonderful it will 
seem to those who hear of it, for no one will believe it unless they see it 
with their own eyes. 

Monday, 26 November 

Weighed anchor at sunrise from where we were lying in the harbour 
of Santa Catalina, on the inside of the flat island, and sailed along the 
coast with a light southwesterly wind towards the Cabo del Pico 1 to 
the southeast. We took a long time to reach the cape because the wind 
fell away. On reaching it we saw another headland lying SE by E about 
fifty miles beyond it, and another closer to us, about fifteen miles SE by 
s, which I have called the Cabo de Campana. 2 We failed to make it 
before nightfall because the wind fell away to a dead calm. The day's 


The Journal 

run was about twenty-four and a half miles, or eight leagues, in the 
course of which I sighted and marked nine notable harbours, which all 
the men agreed were very fine, and five large rivers. I was keeping 
close inshore so as to see everything. 

The whole country consists of lofty and beautiful mountains, not dry 
and rocky, but all walkable, with fair valleys. Hills and valleys alike are 
covered in tall, fresh trees which are a glory to the eye; many of them 
look like pines. Behind the Cabo del Pico, on the southeastern side, are 
two small islands, each about two leagues in circumference, and to their 
landward side are three splendid harbours and two large rivers. 

We have sighted no habitations from the sea anywhere on this coast. 
It may be populated, and there are indications that it is; wherever we 
went ashore we found signs of people and the remains of many fires. 

The land which we sighted today to the southeast of the Cabo de 
Campana must be the island which the Indians call Bohio, because 
there is some distance between it and the cape. All the people I have 
found so far are terrified of the 'Caniba' or 'Canima', who they say live 
on the island of Bohio, which must be very large. I believe they come 
to seize these people's land and houses because they are so cowardly 
and unskilful in fighting. I think these Indians whom we have on 
board live away from the coast because they are so close to this island 
of Bohio; when they saw me altering course for there they could not 
speak for fear that they were going to be eaten, and I could not reassure 
them. They say the Bohio people have faces like dogs and only one 
eye. I think they are lying; the people who take them captive must be 
under the rule of the Great Khan. 

Tuesday, 27 November 

At sunset yesterday we were approaching a cape which I called 
Campana. The sky being clear and the wind light I decided not to sail 
inshore to anchor, although I had five or six excellent harbours to 
leeward, because I am lingering more than I intended, such are the 
appetite and delight aroused in me by the beauty and freshness of these 
islands everywhere I go, and I must not delay in my pursuit of my 
aims. I therefore spent the night hove-to or jogging off and on 1 until 

The tides and currents had carried us more than five or six leagues 
in the night from where we had been off the land of Campana at 
nightfall, and beyond the cape we sighted a great opening which 
appeared to divide one land from another, with what appeared to be an 
island in the middle. I decided to sail back, the wind being sw, and 
coming to where we had seen the opening I found that it was only a 
great bay, with a cape at the southeastern end of it and a high, square 
mountain 2 which looked like an island. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

The wind veered suddenly N, and I changed course back to SE to run 
along the coast and see what it held. At the foot of the Cabo de 
Campana I saw an excellent harbour and a fine river, and a quarter- 
league from there another river, and a half-league on another, and a 
half-league on another, and after a further half-league another, and 
then a quarter-league on another, and a league further on yet another 
large river, about fifteen miles from Cabo de Campana. These are all 
to the SE of the cape, and most of them have fine entrance channels, 
wide and clear, and form splendid harbours for large ships, with no 
sandbanks or rocks or reefs. 

On our way along the coast to the southeast of this last river I found 
a large village, the biggest so far, with huge numbers of people 
coming down to the shore shouting, all naked with assegais 3 in their 
hands. Wishing to talk to them, I furled all sail and anchored. I sent the 
boats ashore from both vessels with orders not to harm the Indians or 
to suffer any harm, and to give them a few trifles of barter goods. 

The Indians made gestures of resistance, indicating that they would 
not let the men land, but when they saw that the boats were 
approaching the shore and our men were not afraid they ran away 
from the sea. Thinking that if only two or three men got out of the 
boats the Indians would not be afraid, two of my men went ashore and 
told them in their own language not to be afraid; they know a little of 
the language from the Indians we have with us. Finally all the Indians, 
men and boys, ran away. 

The three [sic] men went to look at the houses, which are made of 
straw and similar to the others we have seen, and found them all 
empty of people and stripped of possessions. They came back on 
board and we made sail at noon to go to a handsome headland to the 
east, about eight leagues away. After sailing half a league across the 
bay I sighted a most excellent harbour 4 on the southern side, and to the 
southeast a most beautiful stretch of country, including a rolling plain 
surrounded by mountains, with large columns of smoke and villages 
in it, and the land well tilled. I therefore decided to go ashore in this 
harbour to see if I could have some converse or dealings with them. 

Whatever I have said about the other harbours, this one is even 
finer, such is the lie of the land around it, the terrain so kindly and well 
populated. The beauty of the landscape and the woods is wonderful, 
with pines and palm trees, and so is the great plain running to the 
southwest. It is not completely flat, but is composed of low, rolling 
hills, the loveliest sight in all the world, with many streams running 
down from the mountains and out across it. 

We anchored, and I got down into the boat to take soundings in the 
harbour, which is shaped like a flat dish. /Going 5 in the boats to the 
south of the harbour mouth, I found a river which a galley could row 


The Journal 

into comfortably. It was invisible except from close to, but was so 
beautiful that I was tempted to go a boat's length into it, where I 
found a depth of up to eight fathoms. I continued upriver in the boats 
for a good distance. The beauty and freshness of the river, so clear 
that we could see the sand on the bottom; all the various sorts of 
palm tree, taller and more beautiful than any I have encountered 
before; the endless variety of other trees, so tall and green; the birds; 
the greenness of the level ground - all this made me want to stay here 

The loveliness of this country, Your Majesties, is so marvellous; it 
surpasses all others in amenity and beauty as daylight exceeds night. I 
have said repeatedly to my men that, whatever efforts I make to tell 
Your Majesties about it, my tongue 6 could not tell the whole truth, or 
my hand set it down. Truly, I was dumbfounded by the sight of so 
much beauty, and find myself unable to describe it adequately. I have 
already written everything I could about the other places, their trees 
and fruits, their plants, their harbours and all their splendours, 
without doing them justice. Everyone has said that nowhere else 
could be more beautiful. I will write no more now; I hope that other 
men will see it and wish to describe it in writing, and do so rather 
better, if they can be as felicitous in describing it as the beauty of the 
place deserves./ 

I will not attempt to describe the extent of the benefits to be gained 
from this place. Certainly, Your Majesties, there must be countless 
useful things in lands such as these, but I am not lingering in any one 
harbour because I prefer to explore as many more lands as I can so as 
to describe them to Your Majesties. Moreover, I do not know the 
language; the people do not understand me, nor I them, nor any of my 
company. I often misunderstand what these Indians I have on board 
tell me, and I do not trust them, for they have tried repeatedly to 
escape. But now, God willing, I shall see whatever I can, understand- 
ing and learning gradually, and I shall have the language taught to one 
of my people, for I can see that so far the same language is spoken 
everywhere. Then it will be possible to find out which things are 
useful and to convert these people to Christianity. It will be easy, for 
they have no faith and do not worship idols; Your Majesties will have 
a city and a fort built here and these lands will be converted. 

I assure Your Majesties that there can be no finer lands under the sun 
for their fertility, their freedom from extremes of heat and cold, and 
their abundance of healthy water; not like the rivers of Guinea, which 
are full of disease, for praise be to God not a single member of my 
company has had so much as a headache or taken to his bed ill, except 
one old man with the stone, which he has suffered from all his life, and 
he recovered in a couple of days. I am writing here of all three ships. So 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

it will please God, Your Majesties, to see learned men come here or be 
sent by you, for they will then see the truth of it all. 

I have written earlier of the site for a town and fortress on the river 
Mares, with its fine harbour and surroundings. All that I said was true 
enough, but there is no comparing the river Mares or the Mar de 
Nuestra Senora with this place. There must be large settlements inland 
here, with hosts of people, and things of great profit. For if 
Christendom is to enter into trade with all the places I have discovered 
so far, and hope to find before I return home, how much more, I say, 
must Spain, to whom it must all be subject. And Your Majesties, in 
my opinion, should not allow any foreigner to do business or gain a 
foothold here, but only Catholic Christians, for that is the beginning 
and end of the whole enterprise; it should be for the growth and glory 
of the Christian faith, and you should allow no one but good 
Christians to come here. 

I went upriver and found several tributaries, and going around the 
harbour I found a beautiful wood at the mouth of the river, like a 
delightful orchard, and a canoe made from a single timber. It was as 
big as a twelve-seater_/sta, 7 and had been drawn up under a boathouse 
or canopy of wood thatched with large palm leaves so that neither sun 
nor water could harm it. 

This would be a fine place to build a town or city and a fortress, 
what with the good harbour, the sweet water and kindly land, the 
pleasant surroundings and the large supply of timber. 

Wednesday, 28 November 

Remained in harbour all day because of rain and heavy cloud, 
although the wind was sw. This would have been a favourable and 
following wind for running down the coast, but since it was difficult 
to make out the land and unfamiliarity with the coast only runs the 
ships into danger I remained at anchor. The men went ashore from 
both ships. Some of them went inland a little to wash their clothes, and 
found large villages with all the houses empty, the people having run 
away. They came back down a different river, larger than the one 
which flows into the harbour close to us. 

Thursday, 29 November 

Remained in harbour, the rain persisting and the sky still cloudy. 
Some of the men went to another village near the northwestern side of 
the harbour, but found the houses completely empty. On the way 
they came across an old man who had not been able to run away. They 
captured him but told him that they wished him no harm and gave 
him a few oddments of barter goods, then they let him go. I wish I 
had seen him, so as to have given him some clothes and asked him 


The Journal 

questions, for I am very much taken with the attractions of this land 
and the possibilities it offers for colonization. 1 1 am sure there must be 
large settlements here. In one house the men found a cake of wax, 
which I am bringing home to Your Majesties; where there is wax there 
must be a thousand other good things. 2 

In another house they found a man's head in a basket, covered by 
another basket, hanging on one of the posts, and another the same in a 
different village. They must be the heads of some important ancestor, 
for the houses are big enough for many people to live together in 
them, all probably descended from one man. 

Friday, 30 November 

We could not sail because of an E wind, directly contrary to my 
planned course. I sent eight armed men with two of the Indians from 
the ship to explore the villages inland and talk to the people. They 
found many houses, all empty, the inhabitants having fled. They saw 
four young men digging in the fields, who fled as soon as they saw 
them and could not be caught. 

They walked a long way, seeing many villages. The land was very 
fertile and all in cultivation, with big rivers. Near one of them they 
came across a canoe ninety-five handspans long, beautifully made 
from a single timber, big enough to carry a hundred and fifty people. 

Saturday, i December 

The same contrary wind and heavy rain prevented us from sailing. I 
set up a large cross on an outcrop of rocks at the entrance to this 
harbour, which I have called Puerto Santo. 1 1 put it on the point on the 
southeastern side of the entrance channel. 

Anyone seeking to enter this harbour should approach closer to the 
point on the northwestern side than to the other one on the 
southeastern side. There is twelve fathoms' depth and a good clean 
bottom off both points on a line with the crag, but off the SE point at 
the entrance to the harbour there is a bank which dries out, although 
far enough from the point for a ship to pass inside it if necessary, for 
there is a depth of twelve or fifteen fathoms between the bank and the 
point, and when entering harbour the bows should be headed sw. 

Sunday, 2 December 

Still unable to sail because of adverse winds. There is a land breeze 
every single night. All the storms in the world need not trouble any 
ships anchored here; the force of the sea would be broken by the bank 
at the mouth [. . .]* One of the apprentice seamen found some stones 
in the river which appear to have gold in them; I am bringing them 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

back to show Your Majesties. There are other large rivers here, within 
a lornbard shot. 

Monday, 3 December 

Still unable to leave harbour because of adverse weather. I decided to 
go to explore a beautiful headland a quarter of a league to the southeast 
of the harbour. I took a few armed men in the boats. Just beside the 
headland we found the mouth of a fine river, which one may enter 
with the bows to the southeast. It is a hundred yards wide, ! with a 
fathom's depth at the mouth, but inside we found twelve fathoms, or 
five, or four, or two, and it would hold all the ships in Spain. 

We went ashore from a tributary of this river, and making our way 
SE we found a cove where there were five very large almadias, which 
the Indians call canoes, 2 like/wsto, beautifully worked. At the foot of 
the mountain the land was all tilled. The canoes were under some very 
thick trees, and we went up a track leading from them and found a 
boathouse, all neat and covered against the sun and rain, with another 
canoe made from a single timber like the others, like a seventeen- 
benchfusta. Its beauty and workmanship were a marvel to the eye. 

We climbed up a hill as far as a fiat area which we found sown with 
many kinds of vegetables and calabashes, very pleasing to the eye. In 
the middle of it was a large village. We came suddenly on the people of 
the village, who fled when they saw us, men and women alike. The 
Indian I had with me reassured them and told them not to be afraid, for 
we were good people. I told the men to give them some little bells and 
brass rings and green and yellow glass beads, with which they were 
very pleased, for I could see that they had no gold or other precious 
things about them, and I thought it enough to leave them feeling 

The whole area was populated, and the other people had run away 
in fear. I assure Your Majesties that ten men could put ten thousand of 
them to flight. They are so cowardly and timid that they do not even 
carry real weapons, just staffs with a little sharp stick burned to a point 
on the end. I decided to return. We took all the staffs away from them 
without difficulty, bartering for them all. 

Returning to where we had left the boats, I sent a few men to where 
we had gone up the hill, for I thought I had seen a large beehive. 3 
Before they came back a large number of Indians gathered and 
approached the boats, into which the men and I had withdrawn. One 
of them waded into the river as far as the stern of the boat and made a 
long speech which I did not understand, except that from time to time 
the rest of the Indians raised their hands high and gave a great shout. I 
thought they were reassuring us that they were pleased by our arrival, 
but then I saw that the Indian I had with me was turning as yellow as 


The Journal 

wax, and trembling, and he made signs to me that we should leave the 
river because they wanted to kill us. He went to one of my men who 
had a crossbow loaded and drawn, and showed it to the Indians, 
telling them, I think, that we would kill them all and that the crossbow 
could shoot a long way and was deadly. He also took a sword and 
drew it and showed it to them, saying something similar. When they 
heard this they all ran away, but our Indian went on trembling from 
faint-heartedness and cowardice, although he is a strong, well-built 

I refused to leave the river; instead I made the men row the boat to 
the shore where the Indians were standing, a great crowd of them, all 
painted red and as naked as the day they were born, some of them with 
plumes on their heads, and other feathers, and all carrying bunches of 
assegais. I went up to them and gave them a few scraps of bread and 
asked them for the assegais, giving in exchange a little bell to some, a 
little brass ring to others, a few small beads to others. In this way I 
calmed them down and they all came down to the boats and gave us 
everything they had in exchange for whatever we chose to give them. 
The sailors had killed a turtle and the shell was in pieces in the boat, 
and the ship's boys were giving a piece the size of a fingernail and 
receiving a handful of spears from the Indians. 

They are like the other people I have seen, with the same beliefs; 4 
they thought we had come from Heaven. They will give you 
whatever they have, straight away, in exchange for anything at all, 
never saying that it is not enough, and I think they would do the same 
with spices and gold if they had them. 

I saw one beautiful house, not very large, with two doors like all the 
rest, and when I went in I found a marvellous construction, divided as 
it were into chambers 5 in a way which I cannot describe, with shells 
and other things hanging from the roof. I thought it was a temple, and 
I called them and made signs to ask if they said prayers in it. They said 
no, and one of them climbed up and was giving me everything the 
place contained, some of which I accepted. 

Tuesday , 4 December 

Made sail in light winds and left the harbour of Puerto Santo. After 
two leagues I saw a fine river, the one I mentioned yesterday. I sailed 
along the coast, past the cape, and then all down the coast from ESE to 
WNW as far as Cabo Lindo, 1 which is E by s of Cabo del Monte. It is 
five leagues from one cape to the other. A league and a half from Cabo 
del Monte is a substantial, rather narrow river, which seems to have a 
good entrance channel and to be very deep. Three-quarters of a league 
from there I saw another very large river, which must be very long. At 
the mouth it is a hundred yards wide, with no bank across it, and a 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

good entrance channel eight fathoms deep, for I sent the boat to 
examine it and take soundings. The water is fresh right down to the 
sea. It is one of the biggest rivers I have come across, and there must be 
large concentrations of people along its banks. 

Beyond Cabo Lindo is a broad bay 2 which would be a good 
passage 3 ENE and SE and SSE. 

Wednesday, 5 December 

All last night I remained hove-to 1 off Cabo Lindo, which is where I was 
at nightfall, in order to explore the land to the east. At sunrise I saw 
another headland two and a half leagues E, and having rounded it I saw 
that the coast turned s and slightly s w. I then sighted another beautiful, 
high headland on that bearing, about seven and a half leagues on from 
the other. 2 1 should have liked to sail to it, but I did not because of my 
desire to reach the island of Babeque, which the Indians tell me lies NE. 
I could not make for Babeque either, the wind being NE. 

Sailing as I have described I looked SE and saw land, an island which 
the Indians tell me is called Bohfo and is populated. The people of 
Cuba, or Juana, and all these other islands are very afraid of the people 
there, for it is said that they eat human flesh. The Indians have told me 
other remarkable things in sign language, but I do not believe them. 
The people of Bohfo must simply be more intelligent and cunning in 
capturing them, for they are very faint-hearted. 

So because the weather was NE and backing N, I decided to leave 
Cuba, or Juana, 3 and set off SE by E, although the land I had sighted lay 
due SE. I took this precaution because the wind here always veers from 
N to NE and from there to E and SE. The wind strengthened greatly and 
I was carrying all sail, and with the calm sea and the following current 
we were running at six and a half knots from morning until one 
o'clock, less than six hours because the nights here last almost fifteen 
hours. Later we were doing almost eight knots, and by sunset we had 
made about seventy miles, or twenty-three and a half leagues, all to 
the southeast. 

As night was falling I ordered the caravel Nina, which is a fast 
vessel, to sail on ahead to examine the harbour in daylight. When she 
arrived off the mouth of the harbour, which is like Cadiz Bay, she sent 
in her boat to take soundings in the harbour, with a lantern. Before I 
carne up to where the caravel was sailing off and on, waiting for the 
signal from the boat to enter harbour, the light in the boat went out. 
Seeing no light, the caravel gained some sea-room and signalled to me 
with a lantern, and when we reached her they told me what had 
happened. Then the men in the boat lit another light, and the caravel 
went in to join her. We could not, and spent the night sailing off and 



Thursday, 6 December 

At dawn we were four leagues from the harbour, which I have called 
Puerto de Santa Maria. 1 We sighted a beautiful headland about 
twenty-two miles s by E, which I called Cabo de la Estrella; 2 1 think it 
is the southernmost point of the island. We also sighted land like a 
small island, about thirty-two miles to the east. About forty-three 
miles E by s was another handsome, shapely headland which I have 
called Cabo del Elefante, 3 and about twenty-two miles ESE another 
which I have called Cabo de Cinquin. 4 Just E of SE, about sixteen miles 
away, lay a great cleft or opening or inlet of the sea, which looked as if 
it must be a river. 

Between Cabo del Elefante and Cabo de Cinquin there appeared to 
be a broad passage, and some of the men said it was a channel 
separating off an island which I have called Isla de la Tortuga. 5 The 
large island appears to consist of uplands, not mountainous and 
inaccessible but handsome, level, champaign country, all or most of it 
cultivated. The sown areas look like the wheat fields in the country 
around Cordoba in May. 

We saw many fires in the night, and in the daytime many columns 
of smoke as if from watch towers. They appear to be on the alert, 
looking out for some people with whom they are at war. 

The whole length of this coast runs E. At the hour of vespers we 
entered the harbour I have described, and I have called it Puerto de San 
Nicolas, in honour of St Nicholas whose feast day it is. As we sailed in 
I was overcome by its beauty and loveliness. I have said many fine 
things of the harbours of Cuba, but this one is certainly their equal or 
even better, and is unlike any of them. The mouth and entrance channel 
are a league and a half across. The ship should be headed SSE, though 
with so much width the exact heading is not important. The harbour 
continues SSE two leagues, and at the entrance there is a kind of corner 
on the southern side, and from there it continues in the same direction 
as far as the headland, where there is a most splendid beach and an area 
of open woodland with all manner of different trees. I think some of 
them are spice-bearing trees and nutmegs, but they are not ripe and it 
is difficult to tell. There is a river in the middle of the beach. 

The depth of this harbour is remarkable. Right up to a [. . .] length 6 
from the shore we could find no bottom with the lead at forty 
fathoms, and between there and the shore there is fifteen fathoms* 
depth, with a good, clean bottom. The whole harbour is the same; 
from both headlands inland there is a depth of fifteen fathoms just a 
step from the shore, with a clean bottom. It is the same along the 
whole coast, all good sailing depth 7 and clean, with not a bank 
anywhere, and hard in to the coast, just an oar's length from the shore, 
there is five fathoms. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

At the landward end of the long part of this harbour running SSE, 
where a thousand carracks could beat to windward, there is an arm 
running inland a good half-league to the northeast, the same width all 
the way as if measured by a rope. It is about twenty-five yards wide, 
and its shape is such that the mouth of the main entry channel is 
invisible from it, so that it is like a closed harbour. From one end to the 
other there is eleven fathoms' depth, all good clean sand, and hard in to 
the shore, with the gunwales touching the grass, there is eight 
fathoms. The whole harbour is very breezy, open and clear of trees. 

The entire island appears rockier than any other so far. The trees are 
smaller, and many of them are like Spanish trees - holm oaks, 
strawberry trees and others - and the same is true of the plants. The 
land is very high, and all champaign country or open, and the breezes 
are sweet. This is the coolest place we have found - not that it is 
especially cold, only so compared to the other islands. Facing the 
harbour is a fine level plain with the river I have mentioned running 
through it. There must be large settlements in the area, for we have 
seen many canoes, some of them as big as a fifteen-benches^. 

All the Indians fled; they kept running away as soon as they saw the 
ships. The Indians I have brought with me from the small islands are 
so eager to return home that I think I shall have to take them back 
when we leave here. They now distrust me so much for not making 
for their homeland that I have no faith in what they tell me; I cannot 
understand them clearly, nor they me, but they are in great fear of the 
people of this island. 

I should have liked to remain in this harbour several days in order to 
talk to these people, but I shall not linger because I have much to 
explore and I am afraid of running out of time. I trust in Our Lord God 
that the Indians I have here on board with me will learn my language 
and I theirs, and that I can return later to talk to these people, and that it 
may please His Divine Majesty to let me find some good source of 
gold for which to bargain before I go back home. 

Friday, j December 

At the end of the dawn watch I made sail and left Puerto de San 
Nicolas. Wind sw. Sailed NE two leagues to a headland 1 where there 
was a bay 2 to the southeast. The Cabo de la Estrella was nineteen miles 
away to the southwest. I then sailed E along the coast to Cabo de 
Cinquin, about thirty-eight miles, sixteen of which were E by N. The 
whole coast is high, with a great depth of water. There is twenty or 
thirty fathoms* depth right up to the shore, and a lombard shot out 
there is no bottom; I took soundings all along the coast, with the wind 
sw, and was very pleased with my findings. 
The bay I have mentioned comes within about a lombard shot of 


The Journal 

Puerto de San Nicolas, so that if the land in between were cut there 
would be an island of about [three to four] 3 miles in circumference. All 
this land is very high, with no tall trees; only small ones like ilexes and 
strawberry trees, a true Castilian landscape. 

Two leagues before reaching Cabo de Cinquin I discovered a small, 
rocky inlet like a cleft in the mountains, and through it a great valley all 
sown with something like barley. There must be large numbers of 
people, and beyond the valley there are great high mountains. 

When we reached Cabo de Cinquin the end of Tortuga was to the 
northeast, about twenty-five miles away. Off Cabo de Cinquin, a 
lombard shot out, there is a rock above the water, in clear view. 4 
Cabo del Elefante was about fifty miles away E by s, all very high land. 

Six and a half leagues on we came to a great bay, with broad valleys 
inland, champaign country and lofty mountains, all very much 
resembling Castile. After another six and a half miles we discovered a 
river, very deep and narrow, though it was wide enough to admit a 
carrack, and there were no banks or shallows at the mouth, and there 
were fifteen fathoms all along the sides, only three yards from shore. It 
goes inland a quarter of a league. 

It was still early, about one o'clock in the afternoon, and we had a 
strong following wind, but because the sky was threatening rain and 
very cloudy, which is dangerous even when one knows the ground 
and much more so when one does not, I decided to enter the harbour, 
which I have called Puerto de la Concepcion. 5 1 went ashore by a small 
river at the end of the harbour. It flows down through a broad valley 
and landscapes of amazing beauty. 

I took fishing nets, and before we reached the shore a mullet just like 
those in Spain jumped into the boat, the first fish we have seen 
resembling any Spanish one. The crew did some fishing and caught 
more of them, as well as some sole and other fish like those of Spain. I 
walked some distance and found the land all tilled, and heard a 
nightingale and other small birds like the ones in Spain. We saw five 
men, but they ran away. I found some myrtle and other trees and 
plants like those of Castile, and the countryside and mountains are also 

Saturday, 8 December 

Heavy rain and a strong northerly wind. The harbour is safe from all 
winds except from the north, but even this can do no harm because 
there is [no] great surge; neither the surge nor the flow of the river is 
enough to make the ship work at her moorings. 1 After midnight the 
wind veered NE and then E. The harbour is well sheltered from these 
winds by the island of Tortuga, which faces it twenty-eight miles 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Saturday, p December 

Rain and wintry weather, like Castile in October. The only habitation 
I have seen was a splendid house at the Puerto de San Nicolas, which 
was better built than the ones I have seen elsewhere. The island is very 
large; it would not surprise me if it were two hundred leagues around. 
It is all well cultivated. I think the villages must be well away from the 
coast, and the people see me coming and all run away and take 
everything with them, and make smoke signals like people at war. 

The harbour is a thousand paces wide at the mouth, or a quarter of a 
league. There are no shallows or banks anywhere in it, in fact one can 
scarcely find bottom until one is almost hard in to the shore. The 
good, clean anchoring ground runs three thousand paces in from the 
mouth, so that any ship may sail in freely and anchor without fear of 
danger. At the end are the mouths of two small rivers, and inland from 
the harbour are the finest river valleys in the whole world, very like 
the lands of Castile, but even more lovely, which is why I have called 
the island Isla Espanola. 1 

Monday, 10 December 

Strong winds from the northeast. We dragged our anchors half a 
cable, which astonished me. The reason, I think, was that the anchors 
were well out towards land and the wind was onshore. 1 Seeing that 
the wind was unfavourable for my purposes, I sent six men ashore, 
well armed, to go two or three leagues inland to try to talk with the 
people. They came back having found neither people nor houses, but 
they did find a few huts and broad tracks and many dead fires. The 
lands they saw were the finest in the world, and they found many 
mastic trees and brought back some mastic. They said it was there in 
plenty, but this is the wrong time to gather it because it does not set. 

Tuesday, 11 December 

I did not sail, the wind being still E or NE. Opposite this island, as I 
have said, is the island of Tortuga, which appears very large. Its coast 
runs more or less parallel to that of Espanola, with about ten leagues, 
at the most, separating them; that is to say from Cabo de Cinquin to 
the head of Tortuga, after which the coast turns away to the south. 

I should like to explore the area between these two islands in order 
to look at Espanola, the fairest sight in all the world, but also because 
the Indians I have on board tell me that it is the way to the island of 
Babeque, which they describe as very large and mountainous, with 
great rivers and valleys. They also say that the island of Bohio is 
bigger than La Juana, which they call Cuba, and is not surrounded by 
water. I take this to mean that it is the mainland, lying here beyond this 
island of Espanola, which they call Caritaba, 1 and that it goes on and 


The Journal 

on. They must be right when they say that they are harassed by a 
cunning people, for all these islands are in great fear of the Caniba 
people, and as I have said before, Caniba means simply the people of 
the Great Khan, who must live very near here and will have ships; they 
must come to capture these people, and when they do not return it is 
supposed that they have been eaten. We understand these Indians 
better every day, and they us, although we have had many mis- 

I sent some men ashore, and they found quantities of mastic, but it 
was not set. It must be because of the rains; in Chios they gather it in 
March, but it could probably be gathered injanuary in these temperate 
lands. We caught many fish like those of Castile: dace, salmon, 
whiting, John Dory, blue butterfish, mullet, meagre and prawns, 2 
and we also saw sardines. We found many aloe plants. 

Wednesday , 12 December 

Remained in harbour with the same contrary winds. I have set up a 
great cross on the western side of the harbour entrance on a prominent 
hilltop, to indicate that Your Majesties are in possession of this land, 
and principally as a sign of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to the 
honour of Christendom. After we had set it up, three sailors went into 
the woods to look at the trees and plants, and heard a great gathering 
of people, all naked like the earlier ones. The men called to them and 
went after them, but the Indians ran away. 

They finally succeeded in catching one woman. I had told them to 
capture a few of the people, in order to treat them honourably and 
calm their fears, and to see if they had anything useful, which can 
hardly be otherwise in view of the beauty of the land. So they brought 
a young, good-looking woman to the ship, where she talked to the 
Indians, their language being the same. I ordered her to be given 
clothes, and I gave her some glass beads and small bells and brass 
rings, and sent her back ashore, treating her honourably as is my 
custom. I sent some of the ship's company with her, and three of our 
Indians, to talk to the people. The sailors in the boat told me that when 
they were taking her ashore she did not want to leave the ship, but to 
stay aboard with the other Indian women whom I had ordered to be 
captured at Puerto de Mares on the island of Juana or Cuba. 

All the Indians who came with the woman were in a single canoe, 1 
/possibly fishing,/ 2 and when they were just entering the mouth of the 
harbour and saw the ship they turned back and abandoned the canoe 
and went off to their village. The woman 3 indicated where the village 
is. She had a small piece of gold in her nose, which suggests that there 
is gold on this island. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Thursday, 13 December 

The three men I sent off with the woman returned at three o'clock in 
the morning. They had not gone as far as the village with her, either 
because they thought it was too far or because they were afraid. They 
said large numbers of people would come to the ships another day, 
reassured by what the woman will have told them. As I wish to learn 
whether this land holds anything useful and to speak with the people 
of such a fertile and beautiful place, to induce them to become the 
subjects of Your Majesties, I decided to send more men to the village, 
for I am confident that the Indian woman will have taken the news that 
we are good people. I therefore chose nine men, well armed and 
capable of carrying out such an enterprise, and sent one of the Indians 
with them. 

They went to a village four and a half leagues SE, in a great broad 
valley, and found it quite empty, the Indians having left everything 
and run away inland as soon as they detected the men's approach. The 
Indian accompanying my men ran after them shouting to them to 
have no fear, for my men were not from Caniba, but from Heaven, 
and were giving away many fine things to everyone they came across. 
What he said impressed them so much that over two thousand of them 
carne back, and they all kept coming up to put their hands on my 
men's heads as a sign of great reverence and friendship. 

The men said that when the Indians had lost their fear they all went 
off to their houses and each of them brought food: bread made from 
/ roots which they sow for the purpose,/ 1 fish and whatever else they 
had. It seems that because the Indians whom I brought in the ship 
had understood that I wanted a parrot or two, and the one who 
accompanied the men told the islanders as much, they brought 
parrots, and they gave the men whatever they asked for without 
seeking any payment. They begged them not to leave tonight, and 
promised them many other things which they had in the mountains. 

While my men were with these people they saw a great throng or 
column of Indians approaching, including the husband of the woman 
whom I had sent home in honour. They were carrying the woman on 
their shoulders, and coming to thank us for the honour and gifts 
bestowed on her. My men told me that all the people were more 
handsome and fine than any they had seen hitherto; I do not know 
how this could be, for all the ones we have met on the other islands 
have been splendid people. My men say that there is no comparison 
with them in their beauty, both men and women. They are lighter 
skinned than the others, and they saw two young women among 
them light enough to be Spanish. 

They also told me that the land they saw was so kindly and lovely 
that the finest areas of Castile are not to be compared with it. This I 


The Journal 

know for myself from the lands I have seen and the country here, but 
they told me that what I can see here does not approach the fairness of 
that valley, which exceeds the beauty of the countryside around 
Cordoba as the day exceeds the night. All the land there is worked, 
and a great wide river runs through the valley and irrigates all the 
fields. The trees are all green and laden with fruit; all the plants tall and 
in flower. The roads are broad and the air as sweet as April in Castile, 
and the nightingale and other little birds singing as they do in Spain in 
the same month, the sweetest joy in the world. At night there were 
small birds singing sweetly, and the noise of the frogs and crickets was 
everywhere. The fish were the same as in Spain. They saw many 
mastic trees and aloe and cotton plants, but found no gold. One could 
hardly expect it in so short a time. 

I made a check on the length of night and day and the time from 
sunrise to sunset, which I found to be twenty half-hour glasses, though 
there may be some inaccuracy due to the glass not being turned 
immediately or to some of the sand not running through. I also found 
by the quadrant that we are thirty-four degrees from the equinoctial 
line. 2 

Friday, 14 December 

Sailed from Puerto de la Concepcion with the land breeze, which soon 
fell away to a calm, as it has done every day we have been here. We 
then had an easterly wind, and sailed NNE for the island of Tortuga, 
where we saw a point which I called Punta Pierna 1 about nine mUes 
ENE of the head of the island, and from there we sighted another which 
I called Punta Lanzada, 2 about thirteen miles on the same course, 
NNE, 3 so from the head of Tortuga to Punta Aguda must be about 
thirty-five miles, or twelve leagues, bearing ENE. We sailed past long 
sandy beaches. This island of Tortuga is high, but not mountainous, a 
comely land and well populated, like Espanola, with the ground all 
under cultivation; it is like looking at the countryside around 

The wind being unfavourable for the island of Babeque, I decided to 
return to Puerto de la Concepcion. We were unable to make a river 
two leagues E of the harbour. 

Saturday, 15 December 

Left Puerto de la Concepcion again. As soon as we were out of 
harbour the wind came E, contrary to my planned course, so I steered 
for Tortuga. Having come close to it I came about to explore the river 
which I wished to sail into and examine yesterday and could not. 1 
Again I failed to make the river itself, but anchored half a league to 
leeward of it, off a beach, in a good clean anchorage. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

We moored the ships and I set off in the boats to explore the river, 
entering first an opening less than half a league away, which was not 
the mouth of the river. We came out again and found the mouth, 
where there was less than a fathom's depth, and the river was running 
very swiftly. 

We went in with the boats to try to reach the villages which the men 
I sent the day before yesterday saw. I had the mooring ropes taken 
ashore and the men pulled the boats two lombard shots upriver, but 
we could make no more progress because of the weight of the current. 
I saw a few houses and the big valley with the villages, and the river 
running through the middle; I never saw anything more beautiful. I 
also saw people near the mouth of the river, but they all ran away. 

The people must suffer frequent attacks, for they live in terror; 
whenever we arrive somewhere they make smoke signals from their 
watch places all over the country, more so in this island of Espanola 
and in Tortuga than on the other islands we have been to. I have called 
the valley Valle del Paraiso, and the river the Guadalquivir, because 
it is the same size as the Guadalquivir at Cordoba. The banks are 
beautiful shingle, and all easy walking. 

Sunday, 16 December 

Set sail to leave the bay at midnight with a light breeze from the land. 
As we came along the coast of Espanola, sailing close-hauled because 
the wind came E at the hour of terce, we came across a canoe with a 
single Indian in it, halfway across the bay. I was amazed that he could 
stay afloat in such a wind. I had him and the canoe brought on board 
ship, and made much of him, giving him glass beads, hawk bells and 
brass rings. I took him as far as land, about thirteen miles, to a village 1 
on the sea shore where we anchored in good ground, just off the beach 
near the village. 

1 6 December Canoe with single rower 

The Journal 

The village appears newly built; all the houses look new. The Indian 
went ashore in his canoe and told the villagers that we were good 
people, though they already knew this from what happened in the 
other villages visited by my six 2 men. Over five hundred men came 
down onto the beach near the ships, which were moored close to 
shore, and shortly afterwards the king arrived, and singly and in 
groups they came out to the ship. They brought nothing with them, 
but some had their ears and noses pierced with small pieces of very 
fine gold, which they gave us quite happily. 

I gave orders for them all to be received with honour. They are the 
finest and gentlest folk in the world, and I trust in Our Lord God that 
Your Majesties will make Christians of them all, and that they will all 
be your people, which indeed I now hold them to be. 

When I saw that the king was on the beach, and that they were all 
paying him reverence, I sent him a gift which he accepted very 
ceremoniously. He is a young man of about twenty-one. He himself 
says little, having an old tutor and other counsellors who advise him 
and answer for him. One of my Indians spoke to him, telling him that 
we have come from Heaven and are seeking gold 3 and wish to go to 
the island of Babeque. He replied that it was well, and that there is 
abundant gold on the island. He told my marshal, 4 who took him the 
gift, how to find it, saying that it would take only two days to get there 
and that if we needed anything in his country he would gladly give it. 

This king and his people go about as naked as the day they were 
born, including the women, quite without shame. They are the 
handsomest men and women we have yet found; quite pale, and if 
they wore clothes to protect them from the sun they would be as white 
as Spaniards, for this country is quite cold, and the finest one could 
describe. 5 It is quite high, but one could work the highest of its hills 
with a team of oxen, and it is all open country and valleys; nowhere in 
Castile can match it for beauty and kindliness. The whole island, and 
Tortuga too, are as fully cultivated as the area around Cordoba. They 
grow ajes, 6 little stems forming roots like carrots which serve them for 
bread; they grate them and knead them and make their bread, then 
they plant the same stem elsewhere and it forms four or five roots 
again. They are very tasty, just like a chestnut. They grow in Guinea 
too, but here they are bigger and better than I have seen anywhere else, 
as thick as a man's leg. 

The people here are all stout and strong, not thin like those I have 
found elsewhere, and they are gentle in their speech. They have no 
religion. The trees are so lush that the leaves are losing their greenness 
and they are dark with foliage. It is wonderful to see these valleys and 
the rivers and the sweet waters, and the land so suitable for cereals 7 and 
for all kinds of flocks and herds, of which the Indians here have none at 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

all, for vegetable-growing, and for everything else a man could want 
in this world. 

In the afternoon the king came out to the ship. I received him with 
due ceremony and made my interpreters tell him that I was from the 
King and Queen of Castile, who are the greatest monarchs in the 
world. However, neither the Indians I have brought with me nor the 
king himself believed this; they think we are from Heaven, and that 
the realms of the King and Queen of Castile are not in this world but in 

We served the king some Castilian food and he ate a mouthful and 
gave the rest to his counsellors and tutor and the rest of the people he 
had with him. I assure Your Majesties that these lands, especially this 
island of Espanola, are so rich and fertile that no man could describe 
them; no one would believe it all without seeing it. Rest assured that 
this island and all the others are as firmly in your possession as Castile; 
we only have to establish ourselves and order the people to do 
whatever you wish. I, with my small company, could walk all over 
these islands unmolested, for I have already seen three of my seamen 
go ashore and a whole multitude of Indians flee from them without 
being threatened. They have no weapons or fighting skills, and all of 
them are naked. They are very timid; three men could put a thousand 
of them to flight, so they could easily be commanded and made to 
work, to sow and to do whatever might be needed, to build towns and 
be taught to wear clothes and adopt our ways. 8 

Monday, i j December 

Strong ENE winds in the night. The sea did not get up much because 
we are in the lee of the island of Tortuga, opposite, which provides 
shelter. Because of the wind I remained in harbour all day. I sent the 
crew fishing with nets. The Indians were much taken with the men, 
and brought them some arrows of the Caniba or cannibals made from 
the tops of cane stalks. The men also obtained from them some very 
long sticks, sharpened and burnt, and were shown two Indians who 
had pieces of flesh missing from their bodies, which they were given 
to understand had been bitten away by the cannibals, but this I did not 

I sent men to the village again, and they exchanged some glass beads 
for a few pieces of gold beaten into leaves. One of the Indians, who I 
think is probably the governor of this area, * was wearing a piece of this 
beaten gold as large as a man's hand, which he seemed to wish to 
exchange. He left the others in the square and went off to his house, 
where he had the gold beaten into pieces. He kept coming back with a 
piece and exchanging it, and when he had none left he made signs that 
he had sent off for more and that they would bring it another day. All 


The Journal 

this, together with their behaviour and customs, their gentleness and 
good sense, indicates that these people are more alert and aware than 
the others I have found so far. 

In the evening a canoe arrived from Tortuga with a good forty men. 
As it approached the beach all the villagers who were gathered 
together sat down as a sign of peace, and most of those in the canoes 
went ashore. The leader stood up alone and made them go back to the 
canoe, shouting what appeared to be threats and splashing water at 
them, and throwing stones from the beach into the water. When they 
had all obeyed him and were back in the canoe, he took a stone and put 
it in the hand of my marshal so that he could throw it (I had sent the 
marshal ashore with the secretary and others to see if they could bring 
back anything useful). The marshal /laughed and/ 2 refused to throw 
it. The leader showed signs of being very well disposed towards us. 

When the canoe had gone away, I was told that there is more gold 
on Tortuga than on Espanola, because it is nearer to Babeque. It is my 
belief that there are no gold mines on Espanola or Tortuga, but that it 
is brought here from Babeque. They bring very little because the 
people here have very little to exchange for it, their land being so rich 
that they need not work hard to feed themselves, nor to clothe 
themselves either, since they go about naked. I believe I am now very 
close to the source of the gold, and that Our Lord God will reveal it to 

I am told that from here to Babeque is four days' journey, probably 
about thirty or forty leagues; with fair weather one could sail it in a 
day. 3 

Tuesday, 18 December 

I remained at anchor off the same beach, there being no wind, and also 
because the king 1 had told me that he would bring more gold; not that 
I am setting any great store by the gold he may bring, but I wish to 
learn more of its source. At daybreak I ordered both ships to be decked 
out with crests and banners, today being the Feast of Santa Maria de la 
O, 2 the commemoration of the Annunciation, and we fired lombards 
repeatedly. The king of this island of Espanola had risen early from his 
house some five leagues away, as I judge, and at the hour of terce he 
arrived in the village, which some of our company whom I had sent to 
see if any gold was arriving had already reached. They told me that 
more than two hundred men came with the king, and that four of 
them were carrying him on a litter. He is just a young man, as I have 

Today, as I was eating under the sterncastle, the king came to the 
ship with all his people. /Your 3 Majesties would, I am sure, have been 
impressed by his dignity and the reverence in which he is held by them 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

all, naked as they are. When he came aboard he found me eating at 
table under the sterncastle, and he came promptly to sit beside me 
without giving me time to go out to receive him, nor rise from table. 
When he came in under the sterncastle he made signs with his hands to 
tell all his people to stay outside, and they were very quick to obey 
him, sitting down on the deck; all except two elderly men whom I 
took to be his tutor and counsellor, who came and sat down at his feet. 

They kept saying that this was the cacique. 4 1 thought I should offer 
him food, and ordered some of what I was eating myself to be brought 
for him. Whatever I put before him he took just enough of it to taste, 
sending the rest out to his people, who all took some. He did the same 
with the drink, scarcely touching it with his lips before giving it to the 
others. All this was done with marvellous gravity and very few 
words, and what words he did utter, as far as I could judge, were full 
of sound good sense. The other two men watched his lips and spoke 
for him and with him. 

After the meal one of his retinue, with great reverence, brought him 
a belt similar in shape to those in Castile, but of a different 
workmanship, and he gave it to me. He also gave me two pieces of 
worked gold, very thin; I think they acquire very little of it here, 
although I believe they live very near to a plentiful source of it. I 
thought he would like a coverlet which was on my bed, so I gave it to 
him along with some fine amber beads I had around my neck, some 
red shoes and a sprinkler of orange blossom water; his delight was 
wonderful to see. He and his tutor and counsellor are very distressed 
that they do not understand me, nor I them, but nevertheless I 
understood him to tell me that if I needed anything the whole island 
was mine to command. 

I sent for a portfolio of mine on which I have as an emblem a gold 
excelente? bearing the portraits of Your Majesties, and showed it to 
him, repeating what I told him yesterday, that Your Majesties 
command and rule over the best part of the world and that no other 
ruler is your equal. I also showed him the royal standards and the 
banners of the cross, which greatly impressed him. He kept saying to 
his counsellors that Your Majesties must be great rulers, since you had 
not been afraid to send me from so far away, from Heaven. There was 
much more said which I did not understand, but I could see that he was 
greatly impressed by everything. 

When it grew late and he wanted to leave I sent him ashore in the 
boat with great ceremony, firing lombards repeatedly. When he 
reached the shore he got into his litter and went off with all his men - 
over 200. His son was carried behind him on the shoulders of a 
distinguished Indian. Whenever he met sailors or others from the 
ships he ordered them to be given food and treated with honour. A 


The Journal 

sailor who saw him go past on the road told me that all the gifts I had 
given him were being carried ahead of the king by one of his important 
men. The son was some way behind the king, accompanied by just as 
many people, and one of the king's brothers was some way back 
again, but he was on foot, supported by the arm by a distinguished 
Indian on either side. This brother came to the ship after the king, and I 
gave him some of the barter goods. / 6 

We obtained very little gold today, but I learned from an old man 
that there are many islands closely grouped a hundred leagues or more 
away, as I understood it, which are a plentiful source of gold. He even 
told me that one island is all made of gold, and in the others there is so 
much that they take it and sieve it out to make it into bars and work it 
in many ways. He made signs to show me how they do it, and 
indicated the location and the course to be followed. I have determined 
to go there, and if this old man were not such an important person of 
the king's I would seize him and take him with me, or if I knew the 
language I would ask him to come, for I do believe he would come 
willingly, judging by his friendliness to me and the men. However, 
since I now look on these people as subjects of Your Majesties, and do 
not wish to affront them, I have decided to leave him. 

I have set up a fine, imposing cross in the middle of the square in the 
village. The Indians gave us great help, and prayed and worshipped 
before it. If one may judge by them, I trust in Our Lord that all these 
islands will be brought into Christendom. 

Wednesday, ig December 

Last night I made sail to leave the channel between Espanola and the 
island of Tortuga. At daybreak the wind came E, which kept me 
between the two islands all day, and in the evening I failed to make a 
harbour which we had sighted. We saw four headlands and a great bay 
with a river, and from there a large inlet and a village with a valley 
behind it surrounded by lofty mountains covered in trees which I 
think were pines. Above the Dos Hermanos 1 is a high, broad moun- 
tain running NE-SW, and to the ESE of Cabo de Torres 2 is a small 
island which I have called Santo Tomas, 3 because tomorrow is the Eve 
of St Thomas. 4 

The whole coast of this island appears to consist of headlands and 
splendid harbours, if one may judge by its appearance from the sea. 
Before the island, on the western side, is a cape, partly low and partly 
high, running well out to sea. I have called it Cabo Alto y Bajo. 5 Some 
forty-five miles E by s of Cabo de Torres is a mountain, higher than 
another one, 6 which projects into the sea. From far away it looks like 
a separate island because there is a great cleft on the landward side. I 
have called it Monte Caribata 7 because the area is called Caribata. It is 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

very lovely, covered in fresh green trees, with no snow or mist, and 
the breezes and temperature are like Castile in March, while the trees 
and plants are more like Maytime. The nights last fourteen hours. 

Thursday, 20 December 

At sunset today we entered a harbour 1 lying between the island of 
Santo Tomas and Cape Caribata, and anchored. This is a most 
splendid harbour; all the ships of Christendom could lie here together. 
From the seaward side, unless one has entered it before, it appears 
impossible to get into because there are rocky reefs running from the 
mountain almost as far as the island, not in a regular line but scattered 
here and there, some further out to sea and others nearer the shore, so 
that one needs one's wits about one to pass through certain wide 
channels which allow a vessel to come in without risk, with a depth of 
seven fathoms. Once through the reefs there is twelve fathoms, and 
the ship can lie moored with the worst rope aboard her, safe against 
any wind that blows. 

At the entrance to the harbour is a channel 2 on the western side of a 
small, sandy island on which there are many trees. There is seven 
fathoms right up to the foot of the island, but there are many banks in 
the area and one must keep one's eyes open until one is inside the 
harbour. Once inside there is no need to fear the worst storm in the 

From here one can see a great valley, all cultivated, running down to 
the harbour from the southeast. It is surrounded by the most beautiful 
mountains, so high that they seem to reach the sky, and covered with 
green trees. I am sure that some of them must be higher than the island 
of Tenerife in the Canaries, which is thought to be among the highest 
anywhere. A league away from this part of the island of Santo Tomas 
is another small island, and inside that is another, and they all have 
splendid harbours, though one must be wary of the shallows. I have 
also seen villages and columns of smoke. 

Friday, 21 December 

I explored the harbour with the boats. I have never seen a harbour to 
equal it. I have said such fine things about the earlier ones that it is 
difficult to find words to convey the excellence of this one properly, 
and I fear I may be condemned for exaggerating things beyond the 
truth. In my defence, I have old sailors in my company who say 
the same and will confirm it, and any seafarer will agree: my fine 
descriptions of the earlier harbours were true, and it is also true that 
this one is much better than all the rest. I have been a seafarer for 
twenty-three years, never staying ashore for any length of time worth 
mentioning; I have seen all the Levant and all the countries of the west; 



I have made passages north to England and south to the Guinea coast, 
and nowhere in all those lands could a man find harbours as perfect as 
[on these islands, where we have] 1 found every one better than the 

As I was writing the above I have been watching my words, and I 
say again that what I have written is true: this is the finest harbour of 
all, and all the ships in the world could lie here together; it is so 
sheltered that the oldest rope in the ship would hold her safe at her 
moorings. It must be five leagues from the harbour mouth to the 
landward end. 

Some of the land we have seen is very well cultivated, though 
indeed all the land is well worked. I sent two men from the boats to 
climb a hill to see if there was a village. None was visible from the sea, 
but at ten o'clock last night some Indians came out to the ship in a 
canoe to marvel at us. I gave them some barter goods, with which they 
were well pleased. 

The two men came back and told me where they had seen a large 
village some way inland. I ordered the men to row towards it, and 
when we had nearly reached land I saw some Indians coming down to 
the shore, looking frightened. I ordered the boats to stop, and told the 
Indians in the boat with us to tell them that I would not harm them. 
They came closer to the water, and we went closer to the shore, and 
when they had completely overcome their fear so many of them came 
down to the beach that they covered it, offering thanks for our arrival. 
Men, women and children came running from all directions to bring 
us bread made from yams, which they call ajes; it is good, very white. 
They also gave us water in gourds and clay pitchers like those in 
Castile, and brought us everything they had and thought we wanted, 
all with wonderful openness and gladness of heart. Let no one say that 
they gave freely because it was of little value, for those who gave us 
pieces of gold gave as gladly and willingly as those who gave us 
gourds of water, and it is easy to see when something is being given 
with true generosity. 

These people have no staffs or assegais or any other weapons, nor 
do any of the others on this island, which I think is very large. They are 
as naked as the day they were born, men and women alike. Elsewhere, 
on Juana and some of the other islands, the women wear a little cotton 
thing in front to cover up their private part, the size of the flap on a 
man's breeches, especially when they are over twelve years old, but 
here neither girls nor women wear anything. Also, in the other places 
the men hide their women from us because of jealousy, but not here, 
and some of the women are very fine-bodied, and they were the first 
to come and give thanks to Heaven for our arrival and to bring us 
whatever they had, especially foodstuffs, aje bread, and peanuts, 2 and 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

five or six kinds of fruit, which I have ordered to be preserved to bring 
to Your Majesties. The women in the other places did the same thing 
before they went away to hide, and I have given the men orders 
everywhere to take care not to do the least thing to displease them and 
not to take anything from them against their will, so they have paid 
them for everything. I cannot believe that any man has ever met a 
people so goodhearted and generous, so gentle that they did their 
utmost to give us everything they had, and ran to bring it to us as soon 
as we arrived. 

Later I sent six men to explore the village. The Indians received 
them with all the ceremony they could and gave them whatever they 
had. They are in no doubt that we are from Heaven; the Indians I 
brought from the other islands think the same, despite having been 
told what they must believe, /namely that we are just like other men 
and live in a different kingdom called Castile./ 3 

After the six men had set off some Indians arrived in several canoes 
to invite me on behalf of their leader to visit their village when I leave 
here. A canoe is the boat in which they travel; there are large ones and 
small ones. 4 Seeing that the village of this leader was on my way, on a 
spit of land where many people were waiting for me, I went there. 
Before I set off an amazing crowd of people congregated on the beach; 
men, women and children, calling to me not to leave, but to stay with 
them. The messengers from the other chief who had come to invite 
me were waiting in their canoes to make sure that I would not leave 
without visiting him, so I went to see him. 

When I arrived he was waiting for me with many items of food. He 
immediately told all his people to sit down, and had the food brought 
out to where I was waiting in the boats, just offshore. When he saw 
that I had accepted the gifts all or most of the Indians ran off to the 
village nearby to bring me more food, and parrots, and other things, 
showing generosity that astonished us. I gave them glass beads, brass 
rings and hawk bells, not because they demanded them but because I 
thought it only right, and above all because I look on them as already 
Christians, and subjects of Your Majesties even more than the people 
of Castile itself. All that is necessary is to learn their language and tell 
them what to do, for they will gladly do anything one tells them to. 

As we set off for the ships the Indians, men, women and children, 
kept calling to us not to leave. After we had left, canoes full of them 
kept coming out to the ship; I received them honourably and gave 
them food and other things which they took away with them. Earlier 
another chief had arrived from a westerly direction, and many people 
swam out to the ship, a good half-league offshore. The chief I 
mentioned had returned, so I sent certain people to see him and seek 
information about these islands. He received them cordially and took 


The Journal 

them off to his village to give them some large pieces of gold. They 
came to a great river which the Indians swam across; my men could 
not, and had to come back. 

This whole region is full of enormous mountains which seem to 
climb to the sky. Compared to them the one on Tenerife is nothing, in 
height or in beauty^they are all shapely and green and wooded, with 
delightful plains between them. Beside this harbour, to the south, is 
a plain running farther than the eye can see, uninterrupted by hills; 
it must be fifteen or twenty leagues long. There is a river running 
through it, and it is all populated and cultivated, as green now as 
Castile in May or June, in spite of the fourteen-hour nights and the 
land being so far north. 

This harbour, then, is a good haven against all the winds that blow; 
deep and sheltered, with good, gentle people without any weapons, 
good or bad. A vessel could lie here at night without fear of being 
surprised by other ships; the mouth is a good two leagues across but it 
is greatly constricted by two reefs of rock, scarcely visible above the 
surface, which leave only a narrow channel, and one might almost 
think that the reefs were man-made, with just sufficient entrance left 
to allow the passage of ships. There is seven fathoms at the mouth as 
far as a small island with a beach and some trees at its foot; the entrance 
is on the western side and a ship can come hard alongside the rock in 
safety. On the northwestern side there are three islands, and a great 
river a league from the end of the harbour. I have called the harbour 
Puerto de la Mar de Santo Tomas, today being the feast of St Thomas. 
I called it a sea because it is so large. 

Saturday, 22 December 

Set sail at daybreak to pursue my course in search of the islands which 
the Indians tell me are rich in gold, some being more gold than earth. 
The weather being against us, I had to turn back and anchor. I sent the 
boat off with the net to do some fishing. The chief of this area, who has 
a village close to here, sent a large canoe to me full of his people, 
including one of his principal servants, to ask me to go in the ships to 
visit his land, where he would give me everything he had. With the 
servant he sent a sash; instead of a purse on it there was a mask with the 
nose, tongue and two large ears made of beaten gold. /The sash is 
made of very fine jewellery, like pearls, but actually white fish bones 
with a few red ones among them so that it looks like embroidery, 
sewn with cotton thread so skilfully that the reverse side is covered in 
delightful patterns, all white, as if it had been woven on a frame like 
the chasuble edgings produced in Castile by the embroiderers. It is so 
hard and strong that a shot from an arquebus would scarcely penetrate 
it. It is four fingers wide, like the sashes embroidered on a frame or 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

woven of cloth of gold for the kings and noblemen of Castile to wear 
in times past./ 1 

These people are so open-hearted that, whatever one asks for, they 
give it with the best will in the world; they take it as a favour to be 
asked for something. They met the boat and gave the sash to a ship's 
boy, and then came alongside the ship to perform their embassy. Part 
of the day passed without my understanding them, and even the 
Indians we have with us do not understand them clearly, their words 
for some things being different, but eventually I understood by their 
signs that they were issuing an invitation. I have decided to set off 
there tomorrow. I do not normally set sail on a Sunday, not through 
superstition but through my religious devotion, but I wish to do 
whatever will please these people and am striving to do so in the hope 
that they will become Christians, for which their behaviour augurs 
well, and so that as the subjects of Your Majesties, which I already 
consider them to be, they will serve you with affection. 

Before setting sail today I sent six men to a very large village three 
leagues away to the west, the chief of which came yesterday and told 
me he had certain pieces of gold. When the men arrived the chief took 
my secretary by the hand. I had sent my secretary to prevent the rest 
from doing anything untoward to the Indians, for they are so 
generous and my men so extremely greedy that they are not satisfied 
with getting whatever they want from the Indians for a lace end or 
even a piece of glass or pottery or other useless thing, but want to get 
everything with no payment at all, which I have always forbidden; 
though with the exception of the gold much of what they get is of 
trifling value. Considering the generosity of heart of the Indians, who 
would and do give a piece of gold for half a dozen glass beads, I have 
given orders that nothing shall be accepted without some payment. 

This chief, then, took my secretary by the hand and took him to his 
house, accompanied by all the inhabitants of the village, which is very 
large. He ordered him to be given food, and all the Indians were 
bringing all manner of things made of cotton, and also balls of cotton 
thread. When it grew late the chief gave my men three fine fat geese 
and some small pieces of gold, and many of the people accompanied 
them on their way, carrying all the things they had acquired in the 
village and even trying to carry the men on their backs, which indeed 
they did through several rivers and some of the muddy places. 

I ordered the chief to be given a few things, and he and all his 
people were delighted, truly believing that I had come from Heaven 
and thinking themselves fortunate to have seen us. Today more than 
1 20 canoes have come to the ships, all laden with people, and all 
bringing us something, especially their bread, and fish, and clay 
pitchers of water, /beautifully made and painted on the outside like 


The Journal 

red ochre./ 2 They also brought many kinds of seeds which are good 
spices. 3 They drop a seed in a dish of water and drink it, and the 
Indians I have on board tell me it is a most holy thing. 

Sunday, 23 December 

I was unable to set off in the ships for the land of the chief who sent his 
men to invite me, there being no wind, but I sent some men in the 
boats, led by the secretary, and accompanied by the three messengers 
who were waiting. While they were on their way I sent two of our 
Indians to the villages near the anchorage. They brought a chief back 
with them, and the information that there is a large amount of gold in 
this island of Espanola and that people come from elsewhere to buy it; 
they told me I would find as much as I wanted. Others came and said 
the same, that there is ample gold here, and they showed me the way 
in which it is obtained. 

All this was hard to understand, but I have no doubt that there is a 
very large amount of gold in this area and that if we can only find the 
source we shall be able to obtain copious quantities, probably at no 
cost. There must be plenty of it, for we have had some good-sized 
pieces in the three days we have lain in this harbour, and I cannot think 
they bring it from elsewhere. May Our Lord God, in whose hands all 
things lie, see fit to guide me and to give me whatever may best serve 

I would say that over a thousand people have now been out to the 
ship, each bringing something. When they are half a crossbow shot 
from us they stand up in their canoes and hold up the things they are 
bringing and shout *Here! Here!' I estimate that over five hundred 
have swum out to us because they had no canoe, and we are lying 
almost a league offshore. I think five chiefs or sons of chiefs have come 
to see us, with all their household, wives and children. I ordered 
something to be given to them all, for none of this is wasted. May Our 
Lord in His mercy guide my steps, that I may find this mine of gold, 
for there is no shortage of people here who tell me that they know it. 

The boats returned after dark. The men told me that it was a long 
journey to the place they had visited. Beside Mount Caribata they met 
a lot of canoes from the village to which they were going, weighed 
down with people on their way to see us. I am sure that if we could 
remain in this harbour over Christmas the whole population of the 
island would come to see us, though I now believe it to be larger than 
England. The Indians all went back with my men to the village, which 
they tell me is bigger and better laid out in streets than any of the ones 
we have seen hitherto; it is in the area of Punta Santa, 1 almost three 
leagues to the southeast. As the canoes paddle very quickly they went 
on ahead to inform the cacique, as they call him. So far I have not been 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

able to understand if cacique means 'king* or 'governor'. They have 
another word for their dignitaries: nitayno. I do not know if it means 
'nobleman', 'governor* or 'judge'. 2 

Eventually the cacique came to them and they all gathered in the 
square, which was swept very clean; more than 2,000 men, the whole 
population. This king treated our men with great ceremony, and all 
the villagers brought them something to eat and drink. Then the king 
gave each of them some cotton cloths of the kind worn by the women, 
some parrots for me and some pieces of gold. The villagers also gave 
them these cloths and other things from their houses, exchanging 
them for the smallest things, which they seemed to look on as precious 
relics to judge by the way in which they received them. 

When the men made to leave in the evening the king and all the 
people begged them to stay overnight, but seeing them determined 
they accompanied them much of the way, carrying all the gifts from 
the cacique and the others on their backs as far as the boats, which had 
been left at the mouth of the river. 

Monday, 24 December 

Weighed anchor before daybreak with an offshore wind. Among the 
many Indians who came to the ship yesterday and indicated that there 
is gold on the island, telling me the names of the places where it is 
found, I noticed one who seemed more willing and communicative 
than the rest, and more cheerful in his speech. I made much of him and 
asked if he would come with me to show me the mines of gold. He has 
brought a friend or relative with him, and the two of them, talking 
about where the gold is to be found, have mentioned Cipango, which 
they call Cibao; they say there is a great quantity of gold there, and the 
cacique's banners are of beaten gold, but it is far away to the east of us. * 

Believe me, Your Majesties, there can be no better nor gentler 
people in the world than these. It should be a source of joy to Your 
Majesties, for you will soon convert them to Christianity and to a 
knowledge of the good customs of your kingdoms. There can be no 
better people and no finer land, and both are so plentiful that words fail 
me; I have praised the people and the land of Juana, which they call 
Cuba, in the highest degree, but Juana and its people are as inferior in 
every way to this island and its inhabitants as is night to day, and I am 
sure that anyone else seeing it would say the same. Things here, and 
the large villages of this island of Espanola, which they call Bohfo, are 
truly wonderful, and all the people show a remarkable friendliness 
and are so gently spoken, not like the others whose speech sounds 
threatening; and they are all so well built, males and females, and not 

They all paint themselves, it is true; some black, some other 


The Journal 

colours, but mostly red. I have been told that they do it to protect 
themselves from the sun. They have fine houses and villages, and they 
all have some kind of leader, like a judge or a chief, and obey him in 
everything. All these leaders are men of few words and great dignity 
of habit, exercising control by gestures and being immediately 
understood in a way which is remarkable to witness. 

To enter the sea of Santo Tomas one must sail for a good league 
with the bows heading for a small island in the middle of the mouth. I 
have called the island La Amiga. 2 A stone's throw 3 from the island 
steer to the western side, 4 keeping the island to the east, but keep to the 
island side of the channel rather than the other side, because there is a 
large reef running out from the western side, and further out to sea on 
that side are three more banks. This reef ends only a lombard shot 
from La Amiga, but one may pass easily between the two with a depth 
of at least seven fathoms and a gravel bottom, and once inside there is a 
harbour where all the ships in the world could lie without moorings. 

There is another reef and more shallows coming from the eastern 
side towards La Amiga; they are very large and run well out to sea, as 
far as the cape, almost two leagues. However, there appears to be an 
entrance channel two lombard shots from La Amiga, and at the foot of 
Mount Caribata on the western side is a fine, large harbour. 5 

Tuesday, 25 December: Christmas Day 

Last night, while sailing in light breezes from the sea of Santo Tomas 
to Punta Santa, and with my ship a league off the point at the end of the 
first watch, around eleven o'clock, I decided to lie down to sleep, for I 
had not slept for two days and a night. Seeing it was calm, the 
helmsman gave the helm to an apprentice seaman and went off to 
sleep. /I 1 had strictly forbidden the helm to be handed over to the 
apprentice seamen throughout the voyage, wind or no wind. I had no 
reason to fear rocks or banks, for on Sunday, when I sent the boats to 
the king, they went a good three and a half leagues east of Punta Santa 
and the seamen saw all the coast and the shallows to a good three 
leagues ESE of the point, and saw where there was safe passage, which 
is something not done before in the whole voyage. 

It was the Lord's will that at midnight, knowing that I had lain 
down to sleep, and seeing that the sea was like water in a bowl, a dead 
calm, everyone lay down to sleep and the helm was left to the 
boy, and the currents took the ship very gently onto one of the banks, 
which could be heard and seen a good league away even at night. 2 The 
boy, feeling the rudder grounding and hearing the noise of the sea, 
cried out, and I heard him and got up before anyone else had realized 
that we were aground. Then the master, who was officer of the watch, 
came on deck. I told him and the others to get into a boat we were 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

towing, take an anchor and drop it astern. He jumped into the boat 
with a crowd of others, and I thought they were obeying my orders, 
but all they did was row off to the caravel half a league to windward. 

When I saw my own men fleeing in the boat, the sea falling and the 
ship now in danger, 3 1 had no alternative but to cut away the mainmast 
and lighten ship as much as we could to see if we could float her off. 
However, with the tide ebbing all the time there was no help for her; 
she took a list, 4 her seams began to open, and she filled up from below 
the waterline. 5 

Seeing no way of saving her, I transferred to the caravel, taking all 
the men with me for their safety. There was still a light offshore wind 
and much of the night was already gone, 6 so not knowing our way out 
of the banks I sailed off and on until daybreak, when I returned to the 
ship along the landward side of the reef. Before that I had sent Diego 
de Arana of Cordoba, the Marshal of the Fleet, and Pedro Gutierrez, 
Butler of Your Majesties' Royal Household, to tell the king what was 
happening and to say that because of my wish to accept his invitation 
to go to his harbour to visit him, as he requested last Saturday, I had 
lost my ship on a reef on my way to his village, a league and a half 

He burst into tears when he heard the news of our misfortune, and 
sent all his people from the village in numerous large canoes. With 
their help we began to unload everything from the ship. We received 
such help from the king that she was unloaded and everything cleared 
from the decks in no time. He supervised things himself with his 
brothers and relatives, both on the ship and in guarding what was 
taken ashore, making sure that all was safe. From time to time he sent 
one of his relatives to me in tears to console me and tell me not to be 
distressed or downcast, for he would give me everything he had. 

I swear to Your Majesties that nowhere in Castile could everything 
have been better looked after; not a lace point went missing. The king 
had all our things put together beside his palace while they cleared 
several of the houses which he wanted to give us to store everything 
under guard, and he ordered two armed men to keep watch all night. 

The king and all his people kept weeping as if deeply affected by our 
loss. They are of such a loving disposition, free from greed, friendly 
and willing to do anything; I swear to Your Majesties, I believe there 
can be no better people, nor a better land, anywhere on earth. They 
love their neighbours as themselves, and their speech is as gentle and 
kindly as can be, always with a smile. Men and women, it is true, go 
about as naked as they were born, but I assure Your Majesties that 
their behaviour among themselves is above reproach. The king is held 
in great majesty, and has a stateliness of bearing delightful to see. They 
remember things well, and are eager to learn about everything; their 


The Journal 

curiosity makes them ask about this and that, to find the cause and 
effect of it all./ 

Wednesday, 26 December 

The king came to the Nina at daybreak to look, and almost in tears 
told me not to be downhearted, because he would give me everything 
he had. He told me he had given the men ashore two large houses and 
would give them more if necessary, and as many canoes as I might 
want to load and unload the ship and ferry people ashore, as indeed he 
did yesterday without a crumb of bread or anything else being lost, for 
these people are so loyal and uncovetous, especially this most virtuous 

As I was talking to him a canoe arrived from another village with 
some pieces of gold which they wanted to barter for a hawk bell, for 
they love the bells above all else. Even before the canoe was alongside 
they were holding up pieces of gold and shouting chuque chuque, 1 
which is what they call the bells; they go almost mad for them. 2 
Afterwards, when the canoes from the other places were leaving for 
home, they called me and asked me to have a bell kept for them for 
another day, for they would bring me four pieces of gold as big as a 
man's hand. This news lifted my heart, and later a sailor who had been 
among those who took the clothing ashore 3 told me that the men 
ashore are receiving astonishing pieces of gold in exchange for next to 
nothing. For a lace end they are getting pieces weighing more than 
two castellanos, and this is nothing compared to what it will be a month 
from now. 

/The 4 people look on things made of brass as more valuable than 
anything else, so for a lace end they will readily give whatever they 
have in their hands. They call it turey, meaning *from Heaven', for 
turey is their word for the sky. They sniff it as soon as they take it, as if 
they know by the smell that it comes from Heaven, and by the smell 
they value it very highly. They do the same with a kind of low-quality 
gold of a purplish colour which they call guanin\ the smell tells them 
that it is finer and more desirable./ 

The king was very pleased to see me in better spirits, and saw my 
interest in gold. He told me by signs that he knows a place near here 
where there is a large quantity, and that I should be of good cheer, for 
he will give me all the gold I want. He gave me details, telling me 
especially that there is so much gold in Cipango, which they call 
Cibao, 5 that the people set no value on it, and that he would bring it 
here, although here in Espafiola, which they call Bohio, and in this 
province of Caribata, there is much more of it. He stayed aboard to eat 
with me, and then we went ashore together, where he treated me with 
great honour and gave me a feast of two or three kinds of aje with 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

prawns and game and other food of theirs, and some of their bread 
which they call cazabi, 

From there he took me to see some vegetables and trees near the 
houses; a good thousand people came with us, all naked. He was 
wearing a shirt and gloves which I had given him; he took more 
pleasure in the gloves than in anything else he was given. His manner 
of eating revealed his noble birth, being delicate and fastidious, and 
after the meal he was brought certain plants with which he rubbed his 
hands. I think he did it 6 to soften them; afterwards he was given water 
to wash his hands. 

After our meal he took me to the beach. I sent for a Turkish bow and 
a handful of arrows and ordered a good archer from among the ship's 
company to do some shooting. Not knowing about weapons, since 
they neither use nor possess them, the king was most impressed. This 
arose out of our conversation about the Caniba people, whom they 
call 'Caribs', who come to capture them with bows and arrows. Their 
arrows are not tipped with iron. None of these lands seems to have any 
knowledge of iron or steel, or of any other metal except gold and 
copper; not that I have seen much copper. I used sign language to tell 
the king that the King and Queen of Castile would send men to 
destroy the Caribs and hand them all over to him with their hands tied. 

I ordered a lombard and a spingard 7 to be fired. The king was 
astonished by their power and penetration, and when the people heard 
the noise they all fell down. They brought me a great mask with large 
pieces of gold in the ears and eyes and elsewhere; the king gave it to 
me, and he also put some other golden decorations on my head and 
round my neck. He gave many similar things to the men I had with 

The sight of all these things was a great joy and comfort to me, and 
my misery at losing the ship has been somewhat tempered. I can see 
that Our Lord caused her to go aground with the purpose of estab- 
lishing us here, for various things have come together so handily 
that it has been a piece of good fortune rather than a disaster. 
Certainly, if we had not run aground I should have gone on my way 
without anchoring, for the place is inside this great bay with two or 
three reefs, and I should not have left anyone here on this voyage. 
Even if I had wanted to leave them, I should not have been able to leave 
them so well found nor with so much equipment and stores and 
materials to build a fort. Truth to tell, many of the man I am leaving 
here had asked me, directly or through another, to give them 
permission to stay. 

I have decided to build a fort with a tower, all good and sound, and a 
large moat; not that I think this is necessary on account of the people, 
for I am confident that with the few men I have with me I could subdue 


The Journal 

the whole island. I believe it to be larger than Portugal, with twice the 
population, but they are all naked and weaponless and irremediably 
timid. This tower should be built, and built properly, being so far 
away from Your Majesties, to show the people the skills and abilities 
of your subjects, so that the people will love, fear and obey you. 

So they are finishing planks to use in building the fortifications, and 
I shall leave supplies of bread and wine for over a year, and seeds to 
sow, and the ship's boat, and a caulker, a carpenter, a lombardier, a 
cooper, and many other men who are eager, in Your Majesties' service 
and with my approval, to discover the mine which is the source of the 
gold. So everything has coincided handsomely for us to make this 
beginning, especially the manner of the ship's grounding, so gently 
and with no wind or wave. 

Her running aground was good fortune and the clear will of God, to 
cause me to leave people here. If further proof were needed, had it not 
been for the treachery of the master and crew members, most or all of 
them his countrymen, in refusing to take out the stern anchor to kedge 
the ship off, as I had ordered, she would have been saved and we 
would not have been able to get to know this area as we have done in 
these days we have spent here, and as those I intend to leave will 
continue to do. My constant aim has been discovery, and I was resting 
no more than a day in any one place except for lack of wind, in a heavy 
vessel ill-suited for exploration. The unsuitability of the ship was the 
fault of the people in Palos who did not fulfil their undertaking to 
Your Majesties to provide vessels suitable for this voyage. 

Not a thing from the ship has been lost; not a lace point, not a single 
plank or nail, for she was left as sound as when we set off, except that 
we cut holes and broke in here and there to bring off the liquid stores 8 
and all the trading goods, which we put ashore under guard, as I have 
said. And I trust in the Lord that when I return from Castile, as is my 
intention, I shall find a great barrel of gold for which the people I am 
leaving here will have bartered, and that they will have found the gold 
mine and the spices, and all in such quantities that Your Majesties 
will be able to make your preparations to go to recover the Holy 
Sepulchre, for Your Majesties may remember my request to you that 
all the proceeds of this voyage of mine should be used for the conquest 
of Jerusalem. Your Majesties laughed and agreed, and told me that 
such was your ambition in any case. 

Thursday, 27 December 

At sunrise the king came to tell me that he had sent for gold and that 
before I leave he will cover me in it. He begged me to stay; he and his 
brother and another close relative ate with me, and these last two told 
me that they wished to come to Castile with me. While we were eating 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

news came that the caravel Pinta was in a river at the end of the island. 
The king immediately sent off a /heavily crewed/ 1 canoe with one of 
my seamen in it; his affection for me is remarkable. /I gave the seaman 
a letter for Martin Alonso, written in friendly terms and saying 
nothing about his going off on his own or the trouble he has caused 
me, but simply asking him to come to join me, since God has shown 
such great mercies to us all. The king went home after we had eaten, 
leaving me in good spirits and greatly cheered./ 2 

I am now preparing with all possible speed for our departure for 

Friday, 28 December 

I went ashore to direct and speed up completion of the fort and to 
organize the people who are to remain behind. I think the king saw me 
coming in the boat, for he went secretively into his house and sent one 
of his brothers to greet me. The brother took me to one of the houses 
which the king has given to my men, the biggest and best in the 
village. They had prepared a dais of palm bark, and they sat me down 
/ on one of their low chairs, very fine and brightly burnished, likejet, 
with a backrest; they call them duhosJ 1 The brother sent off one of his 
squires to tell the king that I had arrived, as if he were unaware of the 
fact. I believe he was pretending, so as to do me greater honour. When 
he was told, he ran to me with a great plaque of gold in his hand and 
put it around my neck. I stayed with turn until evening, considering 
my course of action. 

Saturday, 29 December 

At sunrise a young nephew of the king came to the caravel, an 
intelligent and spirited lad. I am making every effort to discover the 
source of the gold, asking anyone I can for information, in sign 
language, and this boy told me that four days' journey away to the east 
there is an island called Guarionex, and others called Macorix, 
Mayonic, Fuma, Cibao and Coroay, all with endless supplies of gold. 1 
I wrote down the names. When one of the king's brothers found out 
what the king had told me he appeared to scold him for it. I have felt 
previously that the boy was trying to conceal the source of the gold 
from me so that I will not go off to buy it or barter for it elsewhere, but 
there is so much of it, in so many places, including this island of 
Espanola, as to be astonishing. 

After nightfall the king sent me a great mask of gold, and asked me 
for a wash basin and a jug. 2 1 think he has the idea of making another in 
the same shape out of gold, so I sent what he asked for. 


The Journal 

Sunday, 30 December 

I went ashore to eat, and arrived just after five kings who are the 
subjects of the king here. His name is Guacanagari. All five were 
wearing crowns to indicate their great authority. Your Majesties 
would have enjoyed seeing them; /I believe King Guacanagari must 
have ordered them to come to demonstrate his importance./ 1 

As I reached the shore he came to greet me. He led me by the arm to 
the same house as yesterday, with the dais and chairs, and sat me 
down. Then he took off his crown and put it on my head, and I took 
off a necklace of fine red agates and beautiful multicoloured beads, all 
very handsome, and put it around his neck. I also took off a fine scarlet 
hooded cape which I was wearing, and put it on him, and I sent for a 
pair of red slippers which I put on his feet. I placed a silver ring on his 
finger, for I was told that they had been very eager to acquire a silver 
ring that one of the seamen was wearing. 

He was very pleased, and two of the other kings each brought me a 
great plaque of gold. 2 While all this was happening, an Indian arrived 
who said that two days earlier he had seen the caravel Pinta in a 
harbour to the east of here. 

I returned to the Nina, where Vicente Yanez, the captain, told me 
he had found rhubarb on the island of Amiga, in the entrance to the sea 
of Santo Tomas six leagues away; they recognized it by the branches 
and the root. They say that rhubarb puts out a few little branches 
above the soil, with a few little fruits like dry brambles, and the stem 
near the root is as yellow and fine as the finest painter's colour, and 
below ground it forms a root like a great pear. 3 

Monday, 31 December 

I have spent today supervising the loading of water and timber for our 
departure for Spain to bring the news to Your Majesties quickly, so 
that you may send ships to discover what is left to discover, as the 
enterprise now appears so splendid in extent and of such high promise. 
I should have liked to remain here until I had explored all the land to 
the east and sailed along the whole coast, to find the best crossing from 
Castile 1 for the shipping of cattle and other things. However, finding 
myself as I do with only one vessel, it seems foolish to subject myself 
to the possible dangers of exploration. All these problems and 
difficulties have arisen because the Pinta went off on her own. 

Tuesday, i January 1493 

I sent the boat off at midnight to bring the rhubarb from the island of 
Amiga. They came back at vespers with a basketful; they could not 
bring more for lack of a mattock to dig with. I am keeping it to show 
to Your Majesties. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

The king tells me that he has sent off many canoes to bring gold. 
The canoe which went to look for the Pinta returned, with the seaman 
in it, but they had seen nothing of her. The man told me that twenty 
leagues from here they had seen a king with two great plaques of gold 
on his head, and that he took them off as soon as the Indians in the 
canoe spoke to him. He also saw many other people wearing gold. I 
believe King Guacanagari has forbidden everyone to sell us gold, so 
that he can do all the dealing himself. However, as I have said already, 
I now know the places where there is so much of it that they set no 
value on it. The spices, too, are plentiful, and more valuable than the 
pepper and manegueta /from Guinea and Alexandria./ 1 1 am telling the 
men whom I am leaving here to gather as much as they can. 

Wednesday, 2 January 

I went ashore this morning to take my leave of King Guacanagari and 
to depart in the name of God. I gave him a /very fine/ 1 shirt of mine, 
and in order to show him the power and effect of the lombards I had 
one loaded and fired at the planking of the Santa Maria where she lay 
aground. This was after our conversation had come handily round to 
the Caribs, with whom these people are at war. The King saw the 
range of the lombard, the ball passing through the planking and 
carrying far out to sea. I also armed the ship's company and organized 
a mock skirmish, 2 telling the king not to be afraid of the Caribs even if 
they came. This was all done to make him look on the men I am 
leaving here as friends, and to put fear into him. /I also told him that I 
am going back to Castile in order to return with jewels and other gifts 
for him./ 3 

I took the King and his companions to eat with me in the lodging he 
provided for me. I recommended Diego de Arana, Pedro Gutierrez 
and Rodrigo de Escobedo to him warmly. These are the three whom I 
am leaving as my joint lieutenants in charge of the men who are 
staying on here, so that all may be well organized and supervised in the 
service of God and Your Majesties. He showed great affection 
towards me and sorrow at my departure, especially when he saw me 
making to embark. One of his close subordinates told me that the 
King had ordered a statue as tall as myself to be made from pure gold, 
and that it would arrive in ten days. I embarked intending to sail 
immediately, but the wind prevented it. 4 

I have left thirty-nine men in the fort on this island of Espanola, 
called by the Indians Bohfo. Many of them are on friendly terms with 
King Guacanagari. In charge of them, /I 5 have left Diego de Arana of 
Cordoba as captain, secretary and marshal, with the plenary powers 
which I myself hold from Your Majesties. In the event of his death I 
have named as his successor Pedro Gutierrez, Butler of the Royal 


The Journal 

Table and servant of the Lord Treasurer, and if he too should die, his 
office shall be assumed and executed by Rodrigo de Escobedo of 
Segovia, the nephew of Fray Rodrigo Perez. 

I have left them all the barter goods which Your Majesties ordered 
me to buy, a large quantity, so that they can exchange them and barter 
for gold, and the whole of the contents of the Santa Maria. They have 
biscuits for a whole year, wine, and plenty of artillery. I have also left 
them the ship's boat to enable them, being mostly good mariners, to 
go when they think fit to discover the mine of gold, so that on my 
return I may find quantities of it. They will also be able to look for a 
place to build a town, for this harbour is not quite what I would wish, 
especially since the gold is said to come from the east, and the further 
we go in that direction the closer we are to Spain. 

I have also left them seed for sowing, and the necessary tradesmen: 
a secretary and marshal, a shipwright, a caulker, a good lombardier 
who knows about machinery, a cooper, a doctor, Master Juan, and a 
tailor; all good seafaring men./ 

When I was ready to leave I gathered them all together and 
addressed them. /I 6 told them first that they should consider the great 
mercies which God has granted them and me so far, for which they 
should always give thanks; that they should put their trust firmly in 
His goodness and mercy, taking care not to offend Him and placing all 
their hope in Him; and that they should pray to Him for my return, 
which I promised them would be as soon as possible, God willing, and 
which I trust to Him will bring joy to them all. 

Secondly, I asked them and commanded them in Your Majesties' 
name, as I trusted in their goodness and loyalty, to obey their captain 
as they would obey me. 

Thirdly, I told them to pay great attention and reverence to King 
Guacanagari, his caciques and nitainos and lesser dignitaries, and to 
avoid like death committing any annoyance or grievance towards 
them, considering all we owe to him and to them, and how important 
it is to keep them happy, remaining as the men are in his country and 
under his rule; that they should, indeed, make every effort to earn his 
goodwill by pleasant and honest conversation and to preserve his love 
and friendship, so that on my return I may find him as friendly and 
well disposed as when I leave, or more so. 

Fourthly, I ordered and begged them not to cause offence or injury 
to any of the Indians, male or female, and not to take anything against 
their will. I especially told them to avoid committing any insult or 
violence against the women which might cause outrage, or give a bad 
example, or bring us into disrepute among the Indians, who are sure 
that we have all come from Heaven and are ambassadors of the 
heavenly virtues. 7 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Fifthly, I told them not to spread out and separate, or at least not in 
ones and twos, nor to go inland, but to stay together until my return. 
Certainly they should not go outside the lands and territories of the 
King, who loves us so much and has been so good and kind to us. 

Sixthly, I encouraged them to bear their isolation bravely. It will be 
almost like an exile, though it is their own choice. I told them to be 
virtuous, strong and vigorous in whatever tasks present themselves. I 
reminded them of the miseries which we came through on the voyage, 
and how God consoled us at last with the joy of a landfall, and then 
with all the wealth of gold we have found, each day bringing more. 
I told them that great enterprises are never achieved without great 
travail; when the work is done, the prize seems all the greater for it; the 
worse the problem and the harder the way, the deeper is the joy at the 
end of it. 

Seventhly, I recommended that when the time seems right they 
should ask the King to send some Indians in canoes, and some of them 
should go up the coast with them in the boats, as if they want to 
observe the land, but keeping an eye open to see if they can discover 
the mines of gold. I think what the Indians bring us comes from the 
east, which is up the coast, and they indicate that that is the source of 
the gold. I also told them to look out for a good place to build a fort, 
for I am not satisfied with this harbour. Also, they should barter for all 
the gold they can get by honest means, so that when I return a great 
quantity will have been gathered. 

Eighthly, and last, I undertook to ask Your Majesties to confer on 
them the great rewards which their service merits, if they behave as I 
have recommended. I promised that they will see how greatly they 
will be rewarded by Your Majesties and by the favour of Our Lord, 
once they are cheered by my return; that they may believe that I look 
on it as no small thing to leave them here as a pledge that I will come 
again, and that I will keep the memory of them in my soul night and 
day as a most urgent stimulus to me to make all possible haste to 

Thursday, 3 January 

I did not sail today because last night three of the Indians I brought 
from the islands, who had remained ashore, came to tell me that the 
others and the women would be coming at sunrise. 1 Also the sea was 
rather rough, and the boat could not rest on the beach. I have decided 
to sail tomorrow, God willing. 

If I had only had the Pinta with me I should have had a great barrel of 
gold to take home, for I should have been able to explore the coasts of 
these islands, which I dare not do with a single vessel for fear that some 
accident could prevent my returning to Castile and giving Your 


The Journal 

Majesties news of all that I have discovered. If I were sure that Martin 
Alonso Pinzon had got safe home to Spam in the Pinta, I should carry 
out my aims, but I have no news of him. When he arrives home he will 
be able to misinform Your Majesties so that you do not give him the 
punishment he deserves for going off alone without permission and 
disrupting the rewards which might have been conferred by Your 
Majesties in return for our efforts. I can only put my trust in God to 
grant me fair weather and put all to rights. 

Friday, 4 January 

At sunrise I weighed anchor in a light breeze with the boat going ahead 
of us to get beyond the reef by a wider channel than the one through 
which we entered. This one, and others, provide a safe departure from 
the town of Navidad; all the way the shallowest depth we found was 
three fathoms, with up to nine. The two channels run NW-SE, the 
length of the reefs which stretch from Cabo Santo to Cabo de Sierpe, 1 
over six leagues, and three leagues out to sea and a good three off Cabo 
Santo, and a league off Cabo Santo there is only eight fathoms* depth. 
Inside this cape on the eastern side there are many shallows with 
channels enabling one to pass between them. This whole coast runs 
NW~ SE, sandy all the way, and the land is very level for a good four 
leagues inland. Beyond that there are high mountains, and there are 
large villages with friendly people everywhere, to judge by their 
behaviour towards me. 

I sailed E, heading for a high mountain which looks like an island but 
is not, being joined to low-lying land. It is handsomely shaped, like a 
campaign tent, and I have called it Monte Cristo. 2 It is about nineteen 
leagues due E of Cabo Santo. With the light winds we were still six and 
a half leagues short of it at nightfall. 

I found four low, sandy islands, with a bank running a long way out 
to the northwest and on to the southeast. Inside it is a great bay 
stretching a good twenty leagues to the southeast of the mountain. It 
must be very shallow and shoaly. The coast of the bay has many 
unnavigable rivers, although the seaman whom I sent in the canoe in 
search of the Pinta says he saw a river which ships could enter. 

I am spending the night here in nineteen fathoms, six and a half 
leagues from Monte Cristo, having stood well out to sea to avoid the 
many banks and reefs in the area. Anyone heading for the town of 
Navidad in the future should stand two leagues out to sea when he 
recognizes Monte Cristo, /which is round like a tent and resembles a 
reef, and sail w until he is off Cabo Santo. He will then be five leagues 
from the town of Navidad, and should enter by the channels which 
run through the banks lying off the town./ 3 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Cipango is on this island, and there are large amounts of gold, 
spices, mastic and rhubarb. 

Saturday, 5 January 

I set sail with the land breeze just before sunrise. It then blew from the 
east, and I saw that to the SSE of Monte Cristo, between it and a small 
island, there appeared to be a good harbour in which to anchor 
tonight. I steered ESE and then SSE for a good six leagues until I was 
close to the mountain. After these six leagues I found a depth of 
seventeen fathoms, with a fine clean bottom, and this depth continued 
for another three leagues, reducing to twelve fathoms as far as the nose 
of the mountain, and a league off the nose I found nine, all clean, fine 
sand. I continued on course between the mountain and the island, 
where I found three and a half fathoms at low water, an excellent 
harbour where I anchored. 

I went in the boat to the small island, where I found the remains of 
fires and indications that fishermen had been there. There were 
numerous stones painted in colours, or rather it was a quarry of 
such stones with beautiful natural colourings, suitable for religious 
buildings or other royal edifices; I found similar ones on San Salvador. 
There were also numerous mastic trees. 1 

This Monte Cristo is high and beautiful, easily walked, and 
handsomely shaped. The surrounding terrain is all delightful, low- 
lying countryside. The mountain is so high that from far away it looks 
like a separate island. 

Beyond it, nineteen miles to the eastward, I saw a headland which I 
have called Cabo del Becerro. 2 Between it and the mountain, a good 
two leagues offshore, there are reefs. I think there are channels 
through which a vessel might pass, but only in daytime with a boat 
going ahead to take soundings. East of the mountain, towards the 
Cabo del Becerro, there is a beach, with handsome, level countryside 
for four leagues. The rest is all upland and high mountains, with a 
mountain range running NE-SE, 3 the fairest I have seen, like part of the 
mountains near Cordoba. Far away to the south and southeast one can 
see more very high mountains, with great green valleys and numerous 
rivers, all so pleasant and in such abundance that I cannot convey the 
thousandth part of it. 

Later, to the east of Monte Cristo, I saw another mountain similar in 
size and beauty. E by N 4 from here there is lower ground stretching a 
good hundred miles, or almost. 5 

Sunday, 6 January 

This harbour is well sheltered from all quarters except N and N w, from 



which the wind seldom blows here. * Even then one could shelter in 
the lee of the island, where there is from three to four fathoms. 

At sunrise I set sail to pursue my course along the coast, which runs 
E all the way, though one must have an eye to all the reefs and banks. 
There are, however, fine anchorages inside them, with good entry 

/The land breeze lasted until noon, during which time we ran ten 
leagues./ 2 After noon the wind came strongly from the east. I sent a 
lookout to the main-top to watch for the banks, and he sighted the 
caravel Pinta, running free before the wind towards us. She came to 
join us, but there was nowhere to anchor because of the shallows, so I 
sailed back the ten leagues we had run from Monte Cristo, and the 
Pinta came with us. 

Martin Alonso Pinz6n came aboard the Nina to make his excuses, 
saying that he had left me without meaning to and giving me his 
reasons, all false, for he left me that night through his own greed and 
pride. I do not know how he acquired the arrogance and dishonesty 
with which he has behaved towards me during this voyage. I have 
tried to ignore it, not wishing to assist Satan in his evil work and his 
desire to hinder this voyage as he has done hitherto. The fact is that 
among the Indians I gave Martin Alonso who are still on board his 
caravel one had told him that on an island called Babeque there was 
gold, and having a light and lively ship he decided to leave me and set 
out on his own, while I preferred to wait and to work my way 
eastward by exploring the coasts of the islands ofjuana and Espanola. 

It appears that when Martin Alonso reached the island of Babeque 
he found no gold, and that he came to the coast of Espanola, or Bohfo, 
after the other Indians told him that there were larger quantities of 
gold here, and many gold mines. For this reason he came to within 
about fifteen leagues of the town of Navidad, more than twenty days 
ago, so it appears that the news the Indians brought, which led King 
Guacanagari to send the canoe with my seaman, was correct, and the 
Pinta must have sailed before the canoe reached her. 

I am told that the caravel has obtained large amounts of gold; they 
were given pieces of gold two fingers across, or even as big as a man's 
hand, Martin Alonso keeping half and sharing the other half among 
the crew. 3 So I now recognize, Your Majesties, that it was by the will 
of God that the Santa Maria went aground where she did, in the finest 
place on the island to build a settlement and the closest to the gold 

I have learned that beyond the island ofjuana, to the south, there is 
another large island which has far more gold than there is here, and 
they gather lumps of gold bigger than beans, whereas on Espanola the 
mines produce pieces only as big as grains of wheat. Its name is 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Yamaye. 4 To the eastward there is an island inhabited solely by 
women; I have heard this from many people. This island of Espanola 
and the other called Yamaye are only ten days' journey in a canoe from 
the mainland, probably about sixty or seventy leagues, and there the 
people wear clothes. 

Monday, j January 

The caravel has been making water, so I had the leak repaired and 
caulked. The crew went ashore for wood; they say they found 
numerous mastic trees and aloe plants. 

Tuesday, 8 January 

Strong E and SE winds prevented me from sailing. I therefore set the 
men to taking on water and wood and everything necessary for the 
remainder of the voyage. I should like to explore as much of the coast 
of Espanola as I can while maintaining my course. However, 
considering that the captains I appointed to both caravels are brothers, 
namely Martin Alonso Pinzon and Vicente Yanez, who have the 
support of other greedy and insubordinate men who think that 
everything is now in their hands, ignoring the honour which I 
bestowed on them; and since they have disobeyed my orders and 
continue to do so, and indeed have said and done many unwarranted 
things against me, and Martin Alonso deserted me from 21 November 
to 6 January with no cause or reason beyond his own disobedience, all 
of which I have suffered in silence to bring this voyage to a successful 
conclusion; so, in order to escape from such evil company, with 
whom I must dissemble despite their rebelliousness, though I do have 
many decent men with me, I have decided to make no further stops, 
but to make all speed for home, this not being the time to speak of 

I went ashore in the boat and went to the river near here where the 
crew were getting water, a good league to the SSE 1 of Monte Cristo. I 
found that at the mouth of the river, which is wide and deep, the sand 
is full of gold in amazing quantities, though the grains are very small. 
It must be ground small by being washed down by the river, although 
in a small area I found many pieces as big as lentils, and there are plenty 
of the finer grains. 2 

As it was high water and the river was brackish I told the men to 
take the boat a stone's throw upriver. They filled the casks from the 
boat, and when we returned to the caravel we found grains of gold in 
the hoops of the casks, and the same in the hoops of the big barrel. I 
have called the river Rio del Oro. 3 The mouth is very wide and 
shallow, but once inside it is very deep. It is eighteen leagues from the 
town of Navidad. In between are many large rivers, three in particular 




8 January Indians panning for gold 

which I believe will contain much more gold than this one, for they are 
bigger, though this one is almost as big as the Guadalquivir at 
Cordoba, 4 and they are less than twenty leagues from the gold mines. 5 
I am not gathering any of the gold-bearing sand, since it is all on the 
threshold of Your Majesties' town of Navidad, and is as good as 
gathered; instead I am returning with all possible speed to bring you 
the news and to rid myself of the evil company in which I find myself, 
men who I have always said were insubordinate. 

Wednesday, 9 January 

I set sail at midnight with a southeasterly wind and sailed ENE 1 to a 
point which I have called Punta Roja, 2 forty-eight miles due E of 
Monte Cristo. I anchored in the lee of the point three hours before 
nightfall. There are reefs everywhere, and I dare not leave here at night 
without knowing where they are; they will, however, be useful later if 
there are channels through them, as I suppose, and if there is plenty of 
depth and a good anchorage sheltered from winds in every quarter. 

The land from Monte Cristo to our anchorage here is high and level, 
a delightful champaign country, and beyond lie splendid mountains 
running from E to w, all green and cultivated and wonderfully 
beautiful, with many streams. Turtles are common everywhere; the 
crew caught some at Monte Cristo which had come ashore to lay their 
eggs, and they are as big as a great shield. 

Yesterday, on the way to Rio del Oro, I saw three mermaids rise 
well above the water, but they were not so beautiful as in the 
paintings, and their faces were not human at all. I have seen them 
before in Guinea, on the Manegueta coast. 3 

I shall set sail tonight, in God's name, and shall delay no further, for 
I have found what I was seeking. I wish to have no further annoyance 
from Martin Alonso Pinzon until Your Majesties hear the news of my 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

9 January Manatee 

voyage and of how he has conducted himself; and from then onwards I 
shall no longer put up with the actions of evil and wicked men who 
presume to do their own will in contempt of one who placed them in 
the position of honour which they hold. 

Thursday, 10 January 

I weighed anchor, and at sunset we came to a river three leagues to the 
southeast which I have called Rio de Gracia. 1 1 dropped anchor at the 
mouth, where there is good anchoring ground on the eastern side. To 
enter the river one must cross a bar with only two fathoms of water, 
and the entrance is very narrow. Inside there is a good, sheltered 
harbour, though there is a lot of ship worm. 2 The Pinta is in a poor 
state with it, having spent sixteen days here while Martin Alonso was 
bargaining for gold; that is what he was after, and he obtained a great 
deal. When he heard from the Indians that I was on the coast of the 
same island of Espafiola and was bound to find him, he came to join 
me. He would like all his people to swear that he was here only six 
days, but his wicked behaviour is so clear to everyone as to admit no 
concealment. He has made his own laws, retaining half of all the gold 
he obtained. When he left here he took away four Indians and two girls 
by force. I have ordered them to be given clothes and taken ashore so 
that they may go home. Treating them thus can only be to Your 
Majesties' benefit, in all the islands but especially in this one, where 
you now have a settlement, for in an island with such a wealth of gold 
and spices and fine land the people must be treated honourably and 

Friday, 11 January 

I left the Rio de Gracia at midnight with the land breeze and sailed four 


The Journal 

leagues to a headland which I called Belprado. 1 Eight and a half 
leagues SE of there is a mountain which I have called Monte de Plata, 2 
and nineteen leagues E by s is a headland which I called Cabo del 
Angel. 3 Between this last cape and the Monte de Plata is a bay and 
some of the finest and fairest land in all the world, all beautiful upland 
country running well inland, and then there is a great range of 
mountains running E-W. At the foot of the mountain there is a fine 
harbour with fourteen fathoms at the mouth. 4 The mountain is high 
and lovely, and the whole area is well populated. I believe there will be 
good rivers and quantities of gold. 

Four leagues E by s of the Cabo del Angel is a headland which I have 
called Punta del Hierro, 5 and four leagues further on the same course is 
another which I called Punta Seca, 6 and six leagues further on is a cape 
which I called Cabo Redondo. 7 To the E of this is another which I 
called Cabo Frances. 8 On the eastern side of it is a large bay, but it did 
not seem to offer a good anchorage. A league further on is another 
which I called Cabo del Buen Tiempo, 9 and a good league s by E of that 
is another which I have called Taj ado. 10 From there I sighted another 
headland about fifteen leagues s. 

A good day's sailing, helped by wind and currents. I did not dare to 
anchor for fear of the shoals, so I jogged off and on all night. 

Saturday, 12 January 

In the dawn watch I sailed E with a fresh wind and continued so until 
day. We made sixteen miles in that watch, and nineteen in the 
following two hours. I then sighted land about thirty-eight miles s, 
and we steered for it. In giving the ship sea-room 1 last night we must 
have gone twenty-two miles to the NNE. 

When I sighted land I saw a headland which I called Cabo del Padre e 
Hijo, 2 because on the eastern side there are two vertical rocks, one 
bigger than the other. Two leagues to the east is a large and handsome 
gap between two mountains; it forms a very broad and splendid 
harbour, with a good entrance, but since it was still early morning, 
and I had a wind from the NNW, instead of the normal easterly, I did 
not wish to linger but continued E to a high and handsome cape, all 
sheer rock, twenty-five miles E of the harbour which I called Puerto 
Sacro. 3 1 called it Cabo del Enamorado, 4 and as we were reaching it I 
discovered another cape nine miles to the east, much more splendid, 
higher and rounder, all of bare rock like Cape St Vincent in Portugal. 

After drawing level with the Cabo del Enamorado I saw that 
between it and the other cape lay an enormous bay, 5 three leagues 
across, with a tiny island 6 in the middle of it. There is plenty of depth 
from the mouth to the shore. I anchored here in twelve fathoms and 
sent the boat ashore for water and to talk to the people, but they all ran 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

away. Another purpose in anchoring was to find out if this land is all 
one island with Espafiola, for I suspect that what I thought was a bay 
could be a channel between two islands. I am astounded by the size of 

Sunday, 13 January 

There was no land breeze so I remained at anchor. I wanted to sail to 
find a better harbour, for this one is somewhat exposed. I also wish to 
see the outcome of the conjunction of the moon with the sun, which I 
am expecting on the iyth of this month, and its opposition to Jupiter 
and conjunction with Mercury, and the sun in opposition to Jupiter, 
which is the cause of great gales. 1 

I sent the boat ashore to a fine beach to gather aj es to eat, and they 
found some men with bows and arrows and stayed to talk with them. 
My men bought two bows and a large number of arrows and asked 
one of the Indians to come to talk to me in the caravel. He came, and he 
was stranger to look at than anyone else we had seen. His face was all 
blackened with charcoal, 2 although the people elsewhere also paint 
themselves with various colours. His hair was very long, gathered up 
and tied at the back of his head, and then put into a net made of parrot 
feathers. He was as naked as all the others. I believe he is one of the 
Caribs who eat other men's flesh, 3 and that the bay I saw yesterday is a 
channel separating off a different island. 

I asked him about the Caribs and he pointed to the east, not far away, 
to the land 4 which I sighted yesterday before I entered the bay. He told 
me that there is gold there in plenty, pointing to the caravel and saying 
that there were pieces of gold as big as the stemcastle. His word for gold 
was tuob\ he did not understand caona, which is the word for gold in the 
first part of the island, nor nozay , the word in San Salvador and the other 
islands. In Espafiola tuob means copper or base gold. 6 

The Indian told me that the island of Matinino is inhabited only by 
women, /and the men visit them at a certain season; if they give birth 
to a girl, they keep her, and if it is a boy he is sent to the men's island. / 7 
The women's island bears great amounts of tuob, which is gold or 
copper; 8 he said it lies to the east of Carib. He also told me about the 
island of Goanin, where there are quantities of tuob. 9 Many people told 
me about these same islands days ago. 

In the islands we discovered earlier there was great fear of Carib, 
which was called Caniba in some of them, but is called Carib in 
Espafiola. These Carib people must be fearless, for they go all over 
these islands and eat anyone they capture. I understand a few words, 
which enable me to acquire more information, and the Indians I have 
on board understand more, but the language has changed now because 
of the distance between the islands. 


The Journal 

I ordered the Indian to be fed, and gave him some pieces of green 
and red cloth and some glass beads, of which they are very fond. I then 
sent him ashore, telling him to bring gold if he had any; I thought 
he had, because of certain trinkets he was wearing. When the boat 
reached the shore a good fifty-five men were hiding in the trees, all 
naked, with their hair very long, like women's hair in Spain. At the 
back of their heads they had plumes of parrot and other feathers, and 
they were all carrying bows. 

The Indian got out of the boat and made the others put down their 
bows and arrows and the heavy pieces of wood they were carrying 
instead of swords, shaped like [. . .] 10 They all came down to the boat, 
and the crew went ashore and began to buy the bows and arrows and 
other weapons, as I had told them to. After selling two bows the 
Indians refused to sell any more, but made as if to attack the crew and 
take them prisoner, running to pick up their bows and arrows from 
where they had left them and returning with ropes in their hands, 
apparently to tie up the men. The crew had their wits about them, for I 
always warn them to be on the alert for this, and when they saw the 
Indians running towards them they charged them, giving one of them 
a great sword-cut on the behind and shooting another in the chest with 
an arrow. 11 The Indians saw that they had little to gain, though there 
were only seven Christians and over fifty of them, and they all ran 
away leaving bows and arrows here, there and everywhere. The men 
would have slain a great number of them if the piloto, who was in 
charge, had not prevented them. 

When they came back in the boat to the ship and told me the story, I 
was partly saddened, but also pleased, for it is as well for these Indians 
to be afraid of us. The people here are clearly evilly disposed; I believe 
that these are the Caribs, and that they eat human flesh. It is as well to 
leave them in fear so that they will think twice before harming the 
crew of the boat which I have left with the thirty-nine men in the town 
and fort of Navidad, if it happens to come here. If these are not the 
Caribs themselves, they must at least border with them, and their 
behaviour is the same; they are fearless and unlike the people of the 
other islands, who are ridiculously cowardly and defenceless. I should 
like to capture a few of them. 

They have been making many smoke-signals, as is normal on this 
island of Espanola. 

Monday, 14 January 

I hoped to send men last night to look for the houses of the Indians, 
whom I believe to be Caribs, in order to capture some of them, but 
because of the strong E and NE winds and heavy sea I could not. After 
daybreak, however, we saw a large number of Indians on the beach, so 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

I ordered the boat ashore, with the men well armed. All the Indians 
came to the stern of the boat, including the one to whom I gave the 
trinkets when he came yesterday. He brought with him a king who 
had given him some beads to give to the men in the boat as a token of 
peace and safety. The king and three of his Indians got into the boat 
and came aboard the caravel. I ordered them to be given biscuits and 
honey, and gave the king a red bonnet and some beads and a strip of 
red cloth, and some pieces of cloth to the others too. The king told me 
he would bring a gold mask tomorrow, and indicated that there is 
plenty of gold here and in Carib and Matinino. I sent them back ashore 
in high good humour. /I was told today, as on other days, that there is 
a great deal of copper in these islands./ 1 

Both caravels are making water fast by the keel. It is the fault of the 
caulkers in Palos who did not do their job properly. When I noticed 
the poor workmanship and tried to make them put it right they 
disappeared. However, notwithstanding the rate at which the ships 
are making water, I trust in the grace and mercy of the Lord, who has 
brought me to this place, to take me safe home again. He in His 
majesty knows the troubles I underwent before I was able to set off 
from Castile, when I had no other help but Him, for He saw into my 
heart, and after Him Your Majesties; everyone else was against me 
without justification. They have been the cause of a loss of a hundred 
cuentos of revenue to Your Majesties' Royal Crown since the date of 
my entry to your service on the 2Oth of this present month of January 
seven years ago, plus what it would have increased to from now 
onwards. But God in His power will set all to rights. 

Thursday, 15 January 

I intend to leave here, since there is no advantage in staying, and it 
appears that this unpleasantness is over. I have learned today that the 
bulk of the gold is in the area of Your Majesties' town of Navidad, and 
that the islands of Carib and Matinino are rich in copper, 1 though 
things will be difficult on Carib because it appears that the people are 
cannibals. The island is visible from here and I have determined to sail 
to it, for it lies on my course, and also to Matinino, which they say is 
populated entirely by women. I wish to explore them both and 
capture some of the people. 

I sent the boat ashore. The king had not come, for his village is far 
away, but he sent his crown of gold as he promised, and many other 
Indians arrived with cotton, bread and ajes, all carrying bows and 
arrows. When the bargaining was over four young men came to the 
caravel. They appeared to give me such a good account of all the 
islands on my course eastward that I decided to take them back to 
Castile with me. 


The Journal 

From what we have seen, they have no iron or other metal here, 
though in a few days one cannot learn very much about a country] 
partly through difficulties with the language, which I understand only 
by guesswork, and partly because in a few days the Indians do not 
fully grasp my intentions. 

Their bows are as long as in France or England, and the arrows are 
just like the small spears of the people we have seen hitherto, made of 
young cane shoots, very straight and a yard and a half or two yards 
long. They are tipped with a sharp piece of wood about a palm and a 
half long, and some of them insert a fish tooth at the point. Most of 
them put poison on the tip, and they do not shoot as in other places, 
but in a way which is little danger to anyone. 

There is plenty of fine cotton here, very long in the strand, and 
many mastic trees. I think the bows are yew. There is gold and copper, 
and plenty ofaji, which is their pepper, and is more valuable; everyone 
aboard 2 eats it with everything, finding it very healthy, and this island 
of Espanola could fill fifty caravels a year with it. 

I have found quantities of weed in the bay, the same as I found on 
my outward voyage of discovery, which makes me think that there 
must be more islands due E of where I first encountered them, for I am 
certain that this weed grows in shallow water close to land. If this is so, 
these Indies must lie very close to the Canaries, less than 400 leagues 
away from them. 

Wednesday, 16 January 

I sailed from the Golfo de las Flechas, 1 as I have called it, three hours 
before daybreak with the land breeze, which then veered w. I steered E 
by N for the island of Carib, the home of the people who put such fear 
into all these lands and islands. It appears that they travel all over these 
waters in innumerable canoes and consume whatever people they can 
capture. I was given the course by one or two of the four Indians I 
captured yesterday in Puerto de las Flechas. After about fifty miles 
they indicated that the island would be bearing SE. I decided to take 
that course, and had the sails trimmed accordingly, but after two 
leagues the wind freshened and stood well for our course to Spain. I 
noticed the crew were downcast at our change of course, for the 
caravels are leaking at such a rate that our only hope is the mercy of the 
Lord, so I had to abandon the course which I thought would take us to 
the island and set a course direct for Spain, NE by E, which I followed 
until sunset, making thirty-eight miles, or almost thirteen leagues. 

The Indians have told me that this course will take me to the island 
of Matinino, inhabited only by women, which I should greatly like to 
see in order to bring five or six of them to Your Majesties, but I doubt 
if they know the course properly, and I cannot waste time because of 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

the amount of water the ships are taking in. I am sure, however, that 
these women are there, and that at a certain time of year the men come 
to them from Carib, about ten or twelve leagues away, and if they bear 
a boy child they send it to the men's island, and if it is a girl they keep 

These two islands must be less than fifteen or twenty leagues from 
where I set out; I think they lie SE, and that these Indians were 
mistaken about the course. After losing sight of the headland I named 
San Theramo, on Espanola, 2 seventeen leagues w of us, we sailed 
thirteen leagues E by N in fair weather. 

Thursday, 17 January 

At sunset last night the wind decreased somewhat. In the fourteen 
glasses to the end of the first watch, each of half an hour or slightly 
less, we were sailing at something over three knots, making about 
twenty-two miles. Then the wind freshened and we made something 
over six knots for the ten glasses of the new watch and the six 
following, until sunrise, our total run being almost sixty-seven miles 
NE by E. From then until sunset we ran E about thirty-five miles, or 
almost twelve leagues. 

A booby came to the caravel, then another, and we saw quantities of 
floating weed. 

Friday, 18 January 

Last night we ran E thirty-two miles, almost eleven leagues, in light 
winds, then a further twenty-four miles SE by E, eight leagues, before 
sunrise. We had light winds all day, ENE and NE, occasionally veering 
slightly E, and our course was sometimes N, sometimes N by E or NNE. 
Taking all together I believe we ran about forty-eight miles, or sixteen 
leagues. There was only a little weed, but yesterday and today the sea 
has been teeming with tunny fish. I think they must go from here to 
the fisheries of the Duke of Conil and Cadiz. 

A frigate bird 1 flew round the ship and then away to the SSE. I 
believe there are some islands in that direction. The islands of Carib 
and Matinino and many others lie ESE of Espanola. 

Saturday, ig January 

Last night we ran forty-five miles N by E and fifty-one NE by N. After 
sunrise we had a fresh ESE wind, and ran NE and then NE by N about 
sixty-seven miles, just over twenty-two leagues. The sea was full of 
small tunny fish, and we saw boobies, tropic birds and frigate birds. 

Sunday f 20 January 

The wind fell calm last night. With an occasional puff of wind we 


The Journal 

sailed some sixteen miles NE. After sunrise we sailed about eight or 
nine miles SE, then twenty-eight miles, or nine and a half leagues, 
NNE. Small tunny fish were everywhere. A sweet, gentle breeze, like 
Seville in April or May, and the sea always smooth, thanks be to God. 
We saw frigate birds and petrels and many other birds. 

Monday, 21 January 

After sunset last night we sailed N by E, with the wind E or NE, at about 
six and a half knots until midnight, making about forty-five miles. We 
then sailed NNE at six and a half knots, so the full night's run was about 
eighty-three miles, or twenty-seven and a half leagues, N by E. After 
sunrise we sailed NNE with the wind still E, occasionally E by N. We ran 
about seventy miles, or twenty-three leagues, in eleven hours, having 
taken up an hour of the day to go alongside the Pinta to speak to them. 
The winds are becoming colder now, and I expect to find them 
colder each day as we sail N and the nights grow longer with the 
narrowing of the sphere. We saw numerous tropic birds and other 
birds, but fewer fish because of the colder water. A great quantity of 

Tuesday, 22 January 

After sunset last night we sailed NNE with the wind E and slightly 
southerly. We were making six knots for the first five glasses of the 
watch and the preceding three (making eight in all) and must therefore 
have run fifty-seven miles, or nineteen leagues. * We then sailed NE by 
N for six glasses, running about another fourteen miles, then for four 
glasses of the second watch we steered NE at four and a half knots, 
making over three leagues NE. In the eleven glasses from then until 
sunrise we sailed ENE at four and a half knots, making eight leagues, 
and then ENE until eleven in the forenoon, running twenty-five and a 
half miles. The wind then fell away altogether and we were becalmed 
the rest of the day. The Indians swam in the sea. We saw tropic birds 
and a lot of weed. 

Wednesday y 23 January 

Very variable winds in the night. Sailing with care and taking all 
seamanlike precautions we made about sixty-seven miles NE by N, just 
over twenty-two leagues. I had to wait for the Pinta repeatedly. She is 
sailing very poorly when close-hauled, getting no help from her faulty 
mizzenmast. If her captain, Martin Alonso Pinzon, had been as eager 
to ship a good mast in the Indies, where he had so many good ones to 
choose from, as he was to leave me because he thought he was going to 
stuff his ship with gold, he might have put it right. 
We saw many tropic birds and quantities of weed. The sky has been 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

threatening rain for several days, but it has not come, and the sea has 
been as smooth as a river, thank God. After sunrise we sailed about 
twenty-four miles, or eight leagues, due NE, then the rest of the day 
the same distance ENE. 

Thursday, 24 January 

Repeated shifts of wind in the night; sailed about thirty-five miles, or 
eleven and a half leagues, NE. From sunrise to sunset, about fifteen 
leagues ENE. 

Friday, 25 January 

In the first part of the night, thirteen glasses, we sailed ten leagues ENE, 
then another four and a half miles NNE. After sunrise we made only a 
little over twenty-two miles ENE, or seven and a half leagues, the wind 
falling away. The crew killed a dolphin and a large shark. We were 
sorely needing them, for our supplies are now reduced to bread and 
wine and the ajes we loaded in the Indies. 

Saturday, 26 January 

Last night we made forty-four and a half miles, almost fifteen leagues, 
E by s. After sunrise we sailed sometimes ESE, sometimes SE. We made 
about thirty-two miles by eleven o'clock, when I went about and 
sailed close-hauled, making nineteen miles or six and a half leagues N. 

Sunday, 27 January 

From sunset last night I steered NE, due N, or N by E at about four 
knots, making about fifty-two miles, or seventeen and a half leagues, 
in the thirteen hours. From sunrise to noon I steered NE for nineteen 
miles, or six and one-third leagues, and from then to sunset about 
three leagues ENE. 

Monday, 28 January 

All last night I steered ENE, making about twenty-nine miles, or nine 
and two-thirds leagues. From sunrise to sunset, sixteen miles, or five 
and a half leagues, on the same course. Sweet, gentle breezes. We saw 
tropic birds and petrels, and great quantities of weed. 

Tuesday, 29 January 

Last night I sailed ENE, with winds from the south and southwest, 
about thirty-one miles, or ten and one-third leagues, and in the day 
about eight and a half leagues. Temperate breezes, like April in 
Castile, and a smooth sea. Fish which we call dorados came alongside. 



Wednesday f 30 January 

Sailed about seven and a half leagues ENE in the night, and fourteen and 
a half leagues s by E during the day. We saw tropic birds and great 
quantities of weed; also many dolphins. 

Thursday, 31 January 

Last night we sailed N by E for twenty-four miles, and then NE for 
twenty-eight miles, making seventeen and a half leagues. From 
sunrise to sunset we made fourteen and a half leagues ENE. We saw a 
tropic bird and some petrels. 

Friday, i February 

Last night we sailed ten and a half leagues ENE. During the day we ran 

thirty-one leagues on the same course with smooth seas, thanks be to 


Saturday, 2 February 

Last night we sailed thirty-two miles, or ten and two-thirds leagues, 
ENE. Today, running free with the same following wind, we were 
making over five and a half knots; in eleven hours we ran sixty-one 
miles, or twenty and one-third leagues, with a smooth sea, thank 
God, and sweet breezes. The sea has been so thick with weed that if we 
had not seen it before we should have been frightened that it was 
shoals. We saw petrels. 

Sunday, 3 February 

Last night, running free with a smooth sea, thank God, we sailed 
about thirty-one leagues. The Pole Star appeared very high, as high as 
at Cape St Vincent. I could not take a sight of it with the astrolabe or 
the quadrant because of the swell. Remained on course ENE all day at 
about eight knots, making some twenty-nine leagues in eleven hours. 

Monday, 4 February 

Last night we sailed E by N, first at nine and a half knots and then at 
eight, making about a hundred and three miles, or thirty-four and 
one-third leagues. The sky was very stormy, with rain, and it was 
quite cold, which means that we are not yet in the Azores. After 
sunrise I changed course E, running about sixty-one miles, or twenty 
and one-third leagues, in the day. 

Tuesday, 5 February 

Last night I continued on course E, making about forty-three miles, or 
fourteen and one-third leagues. During the day we ran at about eight 
knots, making about eighty-eight miles in eleven hours, or just over 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

del Aftrolabio. 

3 February Astrolabe 

twenty-nine leagues. We saw petrels and some little sticks, which is a 
sign of land. 

Wednesday, 6 February 

Last night we sailed E at almost nine knots. In the thirteen hours we ran 
about a hundred and thirteen miles, or almost thirty-eight leagues. 
There were many petrels and other birds. Today we were running at 
eleven knots, so we have made a hundred and twenty-two miles, or 
forty and two-thirds leagues; a total twenty-four hour run of about 
seventy-eight leagues. 

Vicente Yanez calculated this morning that we have the island of 
Flores to the north and Madeira to the east. Roldan calculated that 
Fayal or San Gregorio is to the NNE 1 and Porto Santo is E of us. 
Quantities of weed. 

Thursday, 7 February 

Last night we sailed E at about eight knots, running about a hundred 
and three miles, or thirty-four and one-third leagues. Today, sailing at 
six and a half knots, we have made seventy miles in eleven hours, or 
twenty-three and one-third leagues. 

Our position this morning, by my calculation, was sixty-nine 
leagues s of Flores. Thepi/oto, Peralonso, thought that a line drawn 
due N of us would pass between Terceira and Santa Maria, and one 


The Journal 

due E would pass to the windward of Madeira, thirteen leagues off the 
northern tip of the island. 

The crew saw a different kind of weed, of a type which grows 
abundantly in the Azores; later we saw more of the previous kind. 

Friday, 8 February 

Last night we sailed E at something over two knots for a while, then 
changed course to E by s, making thirteen leagues. From sunrise to 
noon we ran about twenty-one and a half miles, and from then to 
sunset the same again, making a day's run of fourteen and one-third 
leagues SSE. 

Saturday, g February 

Last night we sailed SSE for a while, making three leagues, then s by E, 
then NE until ten o'clock in the forenoon, another five leagues, and 
another nine and a half leagues E until nightfall. 

Sunday, 10 February 

After sunset last night we continued sailing E, making a hundred and 
three miles, or thirty-four and a half leagues. In the eleven hours from 
sunrise this morning until sunset, running at just over seven knots, we 
made seventy-nine miles, or twenty-six and two-thirds leagues. 

In my caravel Vicente Yanez, the two pilotos Peralonso Nino and 
Sancho Ruiz, and Roldan 1 have been pricking off our course on their 
charts. They all have us well to the E of the Azores, and taking a line N 
none of them has us level with the island of Santa Maria, which is the 
last of the Azores; they all make our position five leagues E, in the area 
of Madeira or Porto Santo. 

My own reckoning is very different; I have us much further w, with 
Flores bearing due N and Nafe in Africa E of us, and the ship heading to 
pass [. . .] 2 leagues to the windward of the northern tip of Madeira, so 
they have us 160 leagues closer to Spain. When we make our landfall, 
with God's grace, we shall see who is right. On our outward passage 
we had sailed 279 leagues from the island of Hierro before we saw the 
first weed. 

Monday, 11 February 

We stayed on course all night at nine and a half knots, making forty- 
one leagues, and today we have run seventeen and a half leagues. We 
saw many birds, and must be close to land. 

Tuesday, 12 February 

Last night we sailed E at six and a half knots, making about fifty-eight 

miles, or nineteen and one-third leagues. We ran into storms and 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

heavy seas, and if this were not a good, well-found ship I should be 
afraid of sinking. We made about eleven or twelve leagues today, in 
great difficulty and peril. 

Wednesday, 13 February 

From sunset to sunrise we were sorely beset by wind and storms, with 
very heavy seas. There were three flashes of lightning to the NNE, 
which means that a storm or tempest is coming from that or the 
opposite direction. We ran under bare poles all night, then set a little 
sail and made about forty-one miles, or almost fourteen leagues. 
Today the wind dropped a little, but then strengthened again, and 
the sea became terrible. The ships have been labouring badly in the 
crossing seas. We ran about forty-four miles, or fourteen and two- 
thirds leagues. 

Thursday, 14 February 

Last night the wind worsened and the seas were terrifying, crossing us 
from both sides and so distressing the ship that she kept losing steerage 
way and could not pull herself out of them, and they were breaking 
aboard her. I set the mainsail very low, simply to lift her out of the seas 
a little, and so ran about sixteen miles in three hours. 

The wind and sea kept on worsening, and the danger was such that I 
was forced to let her drift astern wherever the wind took her; I could 
do nothing else. Martin Alonso, in the Pinta, did the same, and we 
lost each other, though I hoisted lanterns all night and he did the same 
until he appeared to give up through stress of weather and because he 
was well away from me. In the night we sailed forty-three miles, or 
fourteen and one-third leagues, NE by E. 

After sunrise the wind increased, and the crossing sea grew even 
worse. The only canvas we were carrying was the lowered mainsail 
with no bonnet, to lift the ship out of the crossing seas in which she 
would otherwise have foundered. Our course was ENE, then NE by E, 
and eventually due NE. We sailed about six hours like this, around 
eight leagues. 

I ordered lots to be drawn for a pilgrim to go to Santa Maria de 
Guadalupe 1 with a five-pound wax candle, and made everyone swear 
that whoever was chosen would carry out the pilgrimage. I told them 
to bring as many chickpeas as there were men aboard, and to cut the 
mark of a cross on one of them and put them all into a hat and shake 
them up. I put my hand in first, and drew the pea with the cross, so the 
lot fell to me and I consider myself obliged from now onwards to carry 
out the vow as a pilgrim. 

We drew again to send a pilgrim to Santa Maria de Loreto, in the 
Ancona March in the lands of the Pope, 2 and the lot fell to a sailor from 


The Journal 

Puerto de Santa Maria 3 called Pedro de Villa. I promised to pay his 
expenses. It was agreed to send another pilgrim to keep vigil for a 
night in Santa Clara de Moguer 4 and to have a Mass said; we put in the 
peas again, and again the lot fell to me. We then all swore together that 
when we first come to land we will go in procession in our shirts 5 to 
pray in a church dedicated to Our Lady. 

As well as these communal vows, each man made his own personal 
ones, for none of us expected to survive; we had all given ourselves up 
for lost, so terrible was the storm. The danger was worse because we 
were short of ballast, the cargo having been lightened by our 
consumption of the stores, water and wine. I did not re-ballast the ship 
because I wanted to take advantage of the fair weather in the islands, 6 
intending to have more ballast loaded for the island of women to 
which I meant to sail. To improve things we filled the empty wine and 
water casks with sea water when we could, which has made matters 
somewhat better. 

/I 7 could have borne this storm more easily if I had been the only 
person in danger, for I owe my life to the great Creator, and I have 
been close to death, on its very threshold, on other occasions. The 
thing which caused me infinite pain and sorrow was the thought that 
Our Lord had seen fit to fill me with the light of faith and the 
conviction of this enterprise, and to give me victory, but that 
nevertheless, while our opponents remained convinced that they were 
right despite the glory and increase won for Your Majesties' high 
estate by my service, He in his Divine Majesty might wish to prevent 
it by my death. My own death would have been more bearable had it 
not also involved the death of these people whom I brought with me 
by the promise of a successful outcome. Seeing themselves so beset, 
they cursed not only the fact that they had come but also the fear, or 
the restraint, which in the face of my persuasion had prevented them 
from turning back, as they were often resolved to do. 

Above all, my sorrow was doubled by the memory and the vision 
of my two little sons, whom I left at school in Cordoba, alone and 
helpless in a strange land, and the knowledge that I had not done, or at 
least had not revealed, the service for which one might expect Your 
Majesties to take thought for them. 

I took comfort from my belief that Our Lord would not allow a 
matter of such importance for the exaltation of the Church to remain 
unfinished after I had brought it to the point of completion by such 
trouble and toil, and that He would not let me be destroyed. On the 
other hand, I thought that He had decided to torment me for my sins, 
or to prevent me from enjoying such glory in this world. 

In this confused state of mind I did not forget the future interests of 
Your Majesties, who may still find a way to retain the victory if I die 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

and the ship is lost. I thought that the success of my voyage might 
somehow be brought to your notice, and I therefore wrote down on a 
parchment, with the brevity imposed on me by the weather, how I 
had discovered the lands which I promised you, and the number of 
days it had taken, and the course; I also described the nature of the 
people and their kindness, and how Your Majesties' subjects were still 
in possession of everything I had discovered. 

I sealed this account and addressed it to Your Majesties with an 
inscription promising a reward of five hundred castellanos* to anyone 
who presented it with the seal unbroken, so that if foreigners found it 
they would be prevented from gaining access to the information inside 
by the greed 9 aroused by the inscription. I then had a great cask 
brought, and having wrapped the account in a waxed cloth, which I 
then enclosed in a cake of wax, I put it in the cask, tightened the hoops 
and threw it into the sea. Everyone thought it was some kind of 
devotional offering. I thought it possible that it might not arrive 
safely, and the ships were still sailing towards Spain, so I made another 
package like the first and put it high up on the sterncastle so that if the 
ship foundered the cask would remain afloat at the mercy of the 

Later, with all the rainstorms and squalls, the wind changed to w 
and we sailed with the wind astern 10 for about five hours under just the 
foresail in a very confused sea, making about two and a half leagues 
NE. I had furled the papahigo of the mainsail 11 for fear that a wave 
might carry all away. 

Friday, 15 February 

After sunset last night the sky began to clear to the westward, as if it 
were about to blow from that quarter. I bent the bonnet on the 
mainsail. The sea was diminishing somewhat, though still very high. 
We sailed ENE at about three knots and made about thirteen leagues in 
the thirteen hours of the night. After sunrise we sighted land ahead to 
the ENE. /Ruy Garcia, from the port of Santona, saw it first from the 
crow's nest./ 1 Some said it was Madeira, others the Rock of Sintra in 
Portugal, near Lisbon. 

The wind then veered ENE, dead against us, with a heavy sea from 
the w. The caravel was about five leagues from land. By my reckoning 
we are around the Azores, and this land is one of the islands. The 
pilotos and seamen think we are already off the Spanish coast. 

Saturday, 16 February 1 

We spent all Friday night tacking to and fro to reach the land which we 
now recognized as an island, sometimes NE, sometimes NNE, until 
sunrise, when we turned s to reach the island. We could no longer see 


The Journal 

it because of poor visibility; we then saw another island some nine 
leagues astern. From sunrise to sunset we beat to and fro, trying to 
reach land in strong winds and heavy seas. 

As we were saying the Sa he just on nightfall, some of the men saw a 
light to leeward, which looked as if it could be the land we saw first. 
We spent the night beating to windward, getting as close as we could 
and hoping to see one of the islands at sunrise. I slept a little, for I had 
not slept, nor had any chance of sleep, since Wednesday, and I was in 
great distress with my legs through being exposed to the wet and cold, 
and through lack of food. 

At sunrise we steered ss w and at nightfall we reached the island. We 
could not identify it because of heavy cloud. 

Monday, 18 February 

After sunset last night I sailed along the coast of the island to find an 
anchorage and speak with someone on shore. I dropped a single 
anchor which was immediately lost. I made sail again and after beating 
to windward all night we reached the north of the island again after 
sunrise. I found a suitable anchorage, dropped a single anchor, and 
sent the boat ashore. The men talked to the people and found that it 
was the island of Santa Maria, one of the Azores, and were shown a 
harbour where we might take the caravel. 

The islanders said that they had never seen such storms as in the last 
fortnight, and were astonished that we had survived. When they heard 
the news of my discovery of the Indies they gave great demonstrations 
of joy and offered thanks to God. 

So my navigation was good and my reckoning sound, thank God; I 
had overestimated a little, but I was sure we were in the area of the 
Azores, and that this was one of them. I pretended to have sailed 
further in order to distort the reckoning of thepilotos and seamen who 
have been navigating, so as to remain sole master of this passage to the 
Indies, which indeed I am; not one of them knows the true course and 
none of them can be sure of the way to the Indies. 

Tuesday, ig February 

After sunset last night three of the islanders came down to the shore 
and called to us. I sent the boat to bring them aboard. They brought us 
some chickens and fresh bread, today being Shrove Tuesday, and 
some other things from the Governor of the island, Juan de 
Castaneda. 1 He sent word that he knows me well and only night 
prevented him from coming to see me, but that he would come at 
dawn and bring more refreshments, along with three men who had 
remained ashore from the caravel. He had not sent them back earlier 
because he was so much enjoying hearing them talk about the voyage. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

I ordered the messengers to be received with honour and given beds 
for the night, for it was late and the village was far away. Remember- 
ing the vows we made last Thursday in the anguish of the storm, and 
especially the vow that in the first land with a house dedicated to Our 
Lady we would go in our shirts, etc. , 2 1 decided that half the company 
should go to fulfil the vow in a little building like a hermitage near the 
shore, and I would go later with the other half. Seeing no danger 
ashore, and trusting the Governor's promises and the peace between 
Portugal and Castile, I asked the three men to go to the village to bring 
a priest to say a Mass. When the men had gone in their shirts to carry 
out their pilgrimage, and were at prayer, the Governor and the whole 
population of the village on horse and foot surprised them and 
captured them all. 

I waited unsuspecting for the boat to return in order to perform my 
own pilgrimage with the rest of them. At eleven o'clock, when they 
had not returned, I began to fear that they had been captured or that 
the boat had been wrecked; this island is surrounded by high rocks. 
My view was obscured because the hermitage lay behind a headland. I 
weighed anchor and set sail, and when we were directly off the 
hermitage I saw many men dismounting and getting into the boat 
with weapons. They came out to the caravel in order to take me 
prisoner, and the Governor stood up and asked me for safe conduct. I 
said he could have it, but asked him what was afoot since I could see 
none of my men in the boat. I told him to come aboard and offered to 
do whatever he wanted, planning to lure him onto the ship with 
friendly words and seize him in order to recover my people. I did not 
see this as a breach of the safe conduct, for he had already broken faith 
himself after offering us peace and security. 

He was wary of coming aboard, as if he was up to no good himself. 
When I saw his unwillingness to approach the caravel I asked him to 
tell me why he had seized my men, saying that the King of Portugal 
would not be pleased, and that in the lands of the King and Queen of 
Castile the Portuguese were received with honour, entering freely and 
remaining as safe as in Lisbon. I also told him that Your Majesties had 
given me letters of introduction to all the princes, gentlemen and 
commoners in the world, which I would show him if he would only 
approach, that I was your Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the 
Indies, which now belong to Your Majesties, and that I would show 
him the documents bearing Your Majesties' signatures and seals. I 
showed them to him from a distance and told him that Your Majesties 
were on terms of great affection and friendship with the King of 
Portugal and had ordered me to pay all possible respect to whatever 
Portuguese vessels I might meet. I also said that, while I did not wish 
to leave my people in his hands, it would not prevent me from sailing 


The Journal 

to Spain, for I had ample crew to make Seville, and he and his men 
would be severely punished for the insult they had done us. 

Their reply was that they recognized no King and Queen of Castile 
here, nor their letters, and had no fear of me, and they said in a 
threatening tone that they would show us what Portugal was made of. 
I was considerably angered by this, and I wondered if there had been 
some dispute between the two kingdoms since I set ofFon my voyage. 
I could not resist giving him a fitting reply. He stood up, still well 
away from the caravel, and told me to take her into harbour, saying 
that everything he had done and was doing was on orders from the 
King. I told everyone on the caravel to bear witness, and called to him 
and his men that I gave them my solemn personal promise not to 
disembark from this vessel until I had taken a hundred Portuguese to 
Castile and laid waste the entire island. 

I dropped anchor in the same place as before, the wind and weather 
being unsuitable for any other purpose. 

Wednesday, 20 February 

I ordered the ship prepared for sailing and the casks filled with sea 
water for ballast, for it was an evil harbour to lie in and I was afraid my 
mooring ropes might be cut, which is just what happened. I therefore 
made sail for the island of San Miguel, although with the weather as it 
is there is not a safe haven in the whole of the Azores, and my only 
recourse was to find sea-room. 

Thursday , 21 February 

I left the island of Santa Maria yesterday for the island of San Miguel, 
to try to find a safe harbour against the foul weather. We sailed until 
nightfall without sighting any land because of the thick cloud and poor 
visibility caused by wind and sea, which were both very high. I was far 
from happy, having only three real seamen aboard, for the rest of 
them know nothing of the sea. We were hove-to 1 all night in severe 
storms and great peril and toil. By God's grace the sea was only 
coming from one direction; in the crossing seas we have had earlier we 
would have been in a much sorer plight. 

After sunrise I could not see the island of San Miguel, so I decided to 
turn back for Santa Maria to see if I could recover my men and the 
boat and the anchors and cables which I left there. 

I am amazed by the evil weather in the waters around these islands. I 
sailed all winter in the Indies without once anchoring 2 and the weather 
was always fair; I never saw the sea bad enough to prevent me setting 
sail /in a baker's trough/, 3 whereas here in these islands I have had 
these terrible storms. The same thing happened on my outward 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

passage until I reached the Canaries, but once through them I had 
nothing but fine breezes and moderate seas. 

The sacred theologians and wise philosophers were right to say that 
the earthly Paradise is in the farthest orient, for it is a most temperate 
place, and the lands which I have discovered are indeed the farthest 

Friday, 22 February 

I anchored yesterday off the island of Santa Maria in the same harbour 
as before. A man appeared on the rocks overlooking it and waved his 
coat at us, telling us not to leave, then the boat arrived with five 
seamen, two priests and a clerk. They asked for safe conduct, which I 
granted them. It was late, so they remained on board to sleep, and I 
received them as cordially as possible. 

This morning they asked to see my authorization from Your 
Majesties to make sure that I had made the voyage in your name. It 
appeared to me that they were attempting to justify their previous 
behaviour and show that they were in the right, after failing to take me 
prisoner. It had certainly been their intention to take me by main 
force, for they came in an armed boat, but then they saw that the game 
would be lost and took fright at my threats, which I would have put 
into action and, I believe, carried out successfully. 

In order to recover my men I finally had to show them Your 
Majesties' general letter to all princes and gentlemen in authority and 
my other documents. I gave them presents and they went ashore well 
content and released all my men and the boat. The men told me that if I 
had been taken I should never have been released, for they heard the 
Governor say that those were his orders from his lord the King. 

Saturday, 23 February 

Yesterday the weather began to show signs of improvement. I 
weighed anchor and set off to sail round the island to find a good 
anchorage to take on wood, and also stone for ballast. It was compline 
before I found an anchorage. 

Sunday, 24 February 

I anchored yesterday evening to take on wood and stones. There was 
a heavy sea which prevented the boat from going inshore, and at the 
end of the first watch it began to blow from the west and southwest. I 
gave orders to make sail because in these islands it is very dangerous to 
be riding at anchor with the wind in the south, and if it is sw it soon 
backs s. With the wind standing fair for Spain, I abandoned the idea of 
taking on wood and stones and gave orders to steer E. We were 
running at about five and a half knots for six and a half hours or so until 


The Journal 

sunrise, making some thirty-six miles. From sunrise to sunset -eleven 
hours - we sailed at a little under five knots, making fifty-two and a 
half miles, which with the thirty-six sailed in the night gives a total run 
of eighty-eight and a half miles, or twenty-nine and a half leagues. 

Monday, 25 February 

After sunset last night we remained on course E at four knots, making 
fifty-two miles, or seventeen and one-third leagues, in thirteen hours. 
From sunrise to sunset we made another seventeen and a half leagues, 
with a smooth sea, thanks be to God. A large bird like an eagle came to 
the caravel. 

Tuesday, 26 February 

After sunset last night we remained on course E, with a smooth sea, 
thanks be to God. For most of the night we were running at six and a 
half knots, and we made eighty miles, or twenty-six and a half 
leagues. From sunrise we had light winds and squally showers, and 
made about eight and a half leagues ENE. 

Wednesday, 27 February 

Last night and today I have been driven off course by adverse winds 
and a heavy sea. I make my position 132 leagues from Cape St 
Vincent, 85 from Madeira and 112 from Santa Maria. Such weather is 
distressing when we are nearly on the threshold of home. 

/A swallow settled on the ship. It must have been driven out to sea 
by a storm./ 1 

Thursday, 28 February 

Last night, with repeatedly changing winds, we sailed s and SE, hither 

and thither, and NE and ENE, and the same all today. 

/Many more swallows and other land birds came to the ship. We 
also saw a whale./ 1 

Friday, i March 

Last night we sailed E by N, twelve and three-quarter leagues, and 

today a further twenty-five on the same course. 

Saturday, 2 March 

Last night we ran on course E by N, twenty-nine and three-quarter 

leagues, and a further twenty-one today. 

Sunday, 3 March 

After sunset we sailed E. We were struck by a squall which tore all the 

sails, and we were in great danger from which the Lord saw fit to save 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

us. I drew lots for someone to make a pilgrimage in his shirt to Santa 
Maria de la Cinta in Huelva, and the lot fell to me. We all vowed to eat 
only bread and water on the first Saturday after we make port. 

We had run about forty-eight miles when the sails carried away, and 
from then on we have run under bare poles because of the ferocity of 
the wind and the seas, which have been coming over the ship from two 
directions. We have seen some signs of approaching land, and we 
think we are off Lisbon. 

Monday, 4 March 

Last night we had a fearful storm, and thought that we were sure to 
founder, with heavy conflicting seas and winds which seemed to pick 
the caravel out of the water. There was heavy rain, with lightning on 
all sides. It pleased God to give me strength, and the weather 
continued the same until the first watch, when He gave me a landfall, 
and the crew saw land. 

Not wishing to come inshore until I had identified it and found if 
there was some harbour, or place of refuge, I had no alternative to 
setting the papahigo, despite the risk, in order to gain sea-room, and 
God preserved us through the night, though with endless labour and 

At daybreak I recognized the land as the Rock of Sintra, near the 
Lisbon river. I decided to sail in, having no alternative. The storm was 
so terrible at Cascais at the mouth of the river that the people spent the 
whole morning saying prayers for us, and when we were inside they 
all came to see us and marvel at our escape. 

And so, at the hour of terce, we reached Restelo on the Lisbon river, 
where the seafaring people have told me that this has been the worst 
winter for storms that ever was. Twenty-five ships have been lost in 
Flanders, and others have lain here unable to sail for four months. 

I have written to the King of Portugal, who is staying nine leagues 
from here, telling him that the King and Queen of Spain have told me 
to be sure to enter His Majesty's harbours to request whatever I need, 
in exchange for payment, and asking him to give me permission to take 
the caravel to the city of Lisbon, in case desperate men should take it 
into their heads to do us some mischief in this deserted place, in the 
belief that we are laden with gold; also to let him know that I have 
come from the Indies, and not from Guinea. 

Tuesday, 5 March 

Anchored here in Restelo is a large ship of the King of Portugal, better 
equipped with cannon and weaponry than any vessel ever seen. The 
patron, 1 Bartolome Dias of Lisbon, 2 came to the caravel in an armed 
boat and told me to get down into it to go to give an account of myself 


The Journal 

to the King's officials and the captain of the ship. I replied that 1 was the 
Admiral of the King and Queen of Castile and that I do not render any 
such accounts to any such persons, nor do I leave any ship or vessel in 
which I find myself unless compelled by force of arms. 

The patron told me to send the master of the caravel, and I said I 
would send neither the master nor anyone else unless I was forced to it, 
for sending someone else was just the same to me as going myself, and 
the Admirals of the Kings of Castile are in the habit of dying rather 
than surrendering or handing over any of their people. The patron 
moderated his tone and said that if that was my resolve, then so be it, 
but he asked to see any letters I might have from Your Majesties. I was 
happy to show him them, and he returned to his ship and reported 
to the captain, whose name is Alfonso Daman; he came to the caravel 
with a great show of celebration, including bugles, 3 trumpets and 
kettledrums, and we talked together. He offered to do whatever I ask 
of him. 

Wednesday, 6 March 

When it became known that I had been to the Indies an astonishing 
number of people came from the city of Lisbon to see me and to look at 
the Indians, all expressing amazement and praising God, telling us that 
He in His majesty has given us all this because of Your Majesties' faith 
in Him and desire to serve Him. 

Thursday, 7 March 

Today people have come to see the ship in enormous numbers, many 
of them of noble birth, including the King's officials. They all gave 
infinite thanks to Our Lord for granting Your Majesties so many good 
things and such an expansion of Christendom, which they said was 
appropriate since Your Majesties put so much endeavour and effort 
into spreading the Religion of Christ. 

Friday, 8 March 

I received today, by the hand of Don Martin de Norona, 1 a letter from 
the King of Portugal asking me to go to see him, since the weather was 
not favourable for putting to sea in the caravel. I agreed, against my 
will, because I did not wish to give any grounds for mistrust, and have 
come to spend the night in Sacanben. 2 The King has ordered his 
officials to give me whatever I need for myself, the men or the caravel, 
without payment, and to see that whatever I want done is done. 

Saturday, g March 

I left Sacanben to go to meet the King, who is in Valle del Paraiso, 1 

nine leagues from Lisbon. The rain prevented my arrival before 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

nightfall. The King had me received with great ceremony by the most 
important people in his household, and he himself greeted me very 
honourably and did me many courtesies, asking me to sit down and 
talking cordially with me. 

He undertook unreservedly to have anything done which might be 
to the service of Your Majesties, paying more attention to it than if it 
were for himself. He expressed great joy that the voyage has been 
made and has had a happy outcome, but said that his understanding of 
the capitulation between Your Majesties and himself suggested that 
this conquest belonged to him. I replied that I had not seen the 
capitulation, but my only understanding was that Your Majesties 
ordered me not to go to La Mina, or to any part of Guinea, and that 
orders were given for proclamations to this effect in all the ports of 
Andalusia before I sailed. The King replied that he was sure that there 
will be no need for any arbitration in this matter. 2 

He has given me as my host the Prior of Crato, the most 
distinguished person here, who has shown me many honours and 

Sunday, 10 March 

Today, after Mass, the King told me again that if I have need of 
anything he will give it me. We talked for a long time about my 
voyage, and all the time he refused to let me stand and had me treated 
most honourably. 1 

Monday, 11 March 

I took my leave of the King today. He continued to behave most 
cordially to me, and gave me certain messages to convey to Your 
Majesties. When we had eaten I set off, and the King sent Don Martin 
de Norofia with me, and all the gentlemen there came to set me some 
distance on my road and do me honour. 

I then came to the monastery of San Antonio, near a place called 
Villafranca, 1 where the Queen is staying. I went to pay my respects 
and to kiss her hands, for she had sent word that I should not depart 
without seeing her. The Duke and the Marquis were with her, and 
they received me with great honour. I set off after nightfall, and have 
come to Allandra 2 to sleep. 

Tuesday, 12 March 

I was on the point of leaving Allandra to go back to the caravel when 
a squire came from the King and offered, on the King's behalf, to 
accompany me overland to Castile if I wished, seeing to my lodging 
and providing animals and anything else I might need. When I left him 
he ordered me and my piloto, who was with me, to be given a mule 


The Journal 

each. I learned that he also ordered thepiloto to be given a further gift 
of twenty espadines. It was said that the King was doing all this so that 
Your Majesties would hear of it. 

It was night when I returned to the caravel. 

Wednesday, 13 March 

At eight o'clock today I weighed anchor at high tide and with the wind 

NNW set sail on a course for Seville. 

Thursday, 14 March 

Last night, after sunset, we continued on course s. We were off Cape 
St Vincent in Portugal before sunrise, and then steered E for Saltes. 
Light winds all day; we are now off Faro. 

Friday, 15 March 

Yesterday, after sunset, we continued our course with light winds. 

We were off Saltes at sunrise, and at midday, on the flood tide, we 

crossed the bar into Saltes harbour, which we left on 3 August last 


And so I bring this account to its end. I intend to continue by sea to 
Barcelona, where I am told Your Majesties are at present, in order to 
inform you fully about the voyage which God has allowed me to make 
and on which He has been my light. For surely, not only do I know 
firmly and unreservedly that His great majesty is the cause of all good 
things (of everything, that is, except sin), and that nothing can be 
guaranteed, or even thought of, unless it is His will; I know too that 
He has demonstrated this in a miraculous way, as may be seen in my 
account of the many notable miracles which He revealed during the 
voyage, and in my own person, after I had spent so long at Your 
Majesties' Court, opposed and denounced by so many prominent 
persons of your household. They were all against me and ridiculed my 
undertaking; I now trust in God that it will prove the greatest honour 
to Christendom that ever so easily presented itself. 1 

Appendix, I 

The Voyage Seen Through Other Eyes: 
the Pleitos de Colon 

The pleitos were submissions in the dispute between the Crown and the 
Columbus family over the rights granted to the explorer in the agreement 
between him and Ferdinand and Isabella, their continued validity after his 
death, and the question of how far he had carried out his side of the bargain. l 
Much of the Crown case consisted of attempts to minimize the role of 
Columbus in conceiving the project of discovery, organizing the fleet and 
crews, and finding and exploring the islands. A central aim of the Crown 
Procurator was to stress the importance of the Pinzon family's part in things. 

To this end a series of twenty-four questions was drawn up and put to a 
string of witnesses who included men who had sailed on the first voyage. The 
following are the questions concerning that voyage (questions 2-10 and 24, 
which have to do with later voyages and the discovery of the mainland, are 
omitted), together with samples of witnesses' statements in reply. Many of 
the answers include phrases such as lo oyo dezir, 'he heard it said*, and in view 
of the gap of twenty-three years between the events and the testimonies the 
verbatim reports of conversations must be approached with caution. The 
strongest statements about Martin Alonso Pinzon's role are made by his own 
son. However, it is clear that the Pinzons were important in the organization 
of the project, and were seafarers of experience and standing. Vicente Yanez 
Pinzon emerged in the years following 1492 as a distinguished explorer in his 
own right. 

Although some of the responses conflict with the detail of Columbus's 
account, there is very little in the questions themselves which is incompatible 
with the content of the Journal. If one severs the emotional bond with 
Columbus which one has grown to feel in reading the Journal, one begins to 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

wonder as one reads the testimonies what picture would have emerged if 
Martin Alonso Pinzon had left us his own account. 

It is interesting to compare the responses to questions 15-18 with the 
Journal entries describing the days immediately before the discovery (6-1 1 
October), and those to questions 19-21 with Columbus's account of Martin 
Alonso 's motives and activities while the Pinta was on her own (see the entries 
for 3-10 January). The reference to the Admiral of the Indies in the first 
paragraph is to Diego, the son of Columbus, who under the terms of the 
capituladones inherited the titles granted to his father. 


Appendix I 




i . First: Are they acquainted with the said Procurator and the said Admiral, and did 
they know his father, Admiral Christopher Columbus, and Juan de Fonseca, now 
Bishop of Burgos, and Martin Alonso Pinzon and Vicente Yanez and their brothers, 
and Peralonso Nino, and Cristobal Guerra, and Rodrigo de Bastida, and Diego de 
Lepe, and Juan de Solis f and Juan de la Cosa and Alonso de Hojeda? . . . 

n. Item: Do they know that when the Admiral set off to explore those areas Martin 
Alonso Pinzon ofPalos was on the point of setting off to discover them at his own 
expense with two of his own ships, and that he had reliable written information about 
the country, obtained in Rome that year in the library of Pope Innocent viu, and that 
he had returned from Rome and begun the discussions for a voyage of discovery? 

Juan de Ungria: This witness said that he heard it said that Martin Alonso 
Pinzon and one of his brothers went to Rome and that they had brought 
back some document with instructions for exploration, and that later he 
and the Admiral had joined forces and gone off exploring, and that they 
found the land mentioned in this question, and this was common 

Anton Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he was in Palos, his home town, 
and that Martin Alonso Pinz6n and Vicente Yanez his brother told him 
that they were going exploring and asked him to go with them, because 
Columbus was going with them as captain in chief, and this witness said 
no ... and he heard that they had found the island of Espanola, and then 
they came home, and this witness saw them, and they came straight to 
Palos, and he heard Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez say that they had 
found Espanola. 

Arias Perez: He said that he knows this because he is the son of Martin 
Alonso Pinz6n, and when he was in Rome with some merchandise of his 
father's, the year before the voyage, Martin Alonso went to Rome, and 
one day in the Pope's library, having been there many times because of his 
great friendship with a servant of the Pope who was a great cosmographer 
and had many extensive documents . . . this witness and his father were 
told about these lands which were still undiscovered, and when they were 
together Martin Alonso, with his great energy and knowledge of the sea, 
told this witness repeatedly that he was organizing and equipping two 
ships to go to discover these lands; he knows this because of what he has 
said and what happened and because he saw it with his own eyes. 

12. Item: Do they know that the said Martin Alonso Pinzon informed Christopher 
Columbus about the region and discussed with him the aforementioned document, 
which was said to be a judgement from the time of Solomon saying that if one sailed 
through the Mediterranean, past Spain and on to the westward . . . through ninety- 
five degrees one would find a land called Sypanso f fertile and rich, and larger than 
Africa and Europe together? 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Anton Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he heard of the documents from 
Martin Alonso himself, who had brought a copy from Rome, and he 
knows this because he returned from Rome with him. 
Arias Peres:: He said that . . . when he was in the library of Pope Innocent 
vni in Rome he gave him a document saying what is contained in the 
question, and his father took it and brought it back to Castile with the 
intention of going in search of the said land, and set about it ... and then 
the Admiral came to Palos with this project to discover those lands . . . 
and saw fit to approach Martin Alonso, who agreed that the project was 
good and that he knew all about it, and that if Columbus had not arrived 
when he did he would have found him already gone with two caravels to 
discover those lands, and when the Admiral realized this he became very 
friendly with the witness's father and made a compact with him and asked 
him to accompany him, all of which this witness saw personally. 

15. Item: Do they know that when he had received this document the said Admiral 
increased his efforts and preparations for sailing to discover that land, and that Martin 
Alonso Pinzon made him come to the Court, paying his expenses so that he could 
negotiate for the voyage, since Martin Alonso had everything necessary in his house? 

Garcia Ferrando: He said that . . . the Queen sent 20,000 maravedis, in 
florins, which Diego Prieto of this town brought with a letter asking this 
witness to give them to Christopher Columbus so that he could dress 
decently and buy a small beast to ride on and appear before her . . . and he 
came back with the authority to take over what ships he thought fit for the 
voyage, and that was when the friendship and pact with Martin Alonso 
and Vicente Yanez came about, they being men of substance and 
experienced seafarers, and they advised Columbus and put many advan- 
tageous things his way for the voyage. 

14. Item: Do they know that after leaving the Court he went to Palos and could find no 
one to give him ships f nor to sail in them f and that the said Martin Alonso, in order to 
serve Their Majesties, gave him two vessels and decided to accompany him, with his 
relatives and friends, and the Admiral promised him half of all the benefits promised to 
him by Their Majesties for finding the country, and showed him the royal 
documentary undertakings? 

Juan de Vngria: He said that he repeats what he has said and that he heard 
many people say so and that it is common knowledge. 
Card Fernandez-. He said that what he knows is that Martfn Alonso came 
to Palos, the witness does not know from where, and fitted out two vessels 
and gave them to the Admiral for the service of their Majesties. Asked 
how he knows that the ships were handed over fully fitted out, he said 
because he witnessed it and because he was purser on one of them, the 

Francisco Garcia Vallejo: He said that to his knowledge, if it had not been 
for Martin Alonso helping with his relatives and friends, the Admiral 
would never have sailed on the voyage of discovery, and nobody would 
have gone with him, and Martin Alonso, in friendship and with the desire 


Appendix I 

to serve Their Majesties, asked his brother and this witness and other men 
to go with him and the Admiral . . . asked how he knows this, he said that 
he was there and saw it, and went with the said Pinzon and his brother as 
part of the company. 

Arias Perez: He said that . . . when the Admiral came back from the Court 
he brought Their Majesties' order and authority to sail to discover those 
lands with three ships, and he found that there was not a single man in 
Palos who dared go with him or who would provide him with ships, for 
they said that he would never find land. After spending over tv/o months 
making no progress he set to asking Martin Alonso, showing him the 
promises of rewards from Their Majesties if he should find land, and 
promising him a half share and the captaincy of one of the ships if he went 
with him, and suggesting that he should use his influence over his friends 
and relatives to serve Their Majesties, and Martin Alonso saw that the 
Admiral was helpless . . . and agreed to go with him, gave him the 
document he had brought from Rome, provided the ships and with his 
friends and relatives put the fleet together inside a month. 

13. Item: Do they know that Martin Alonso Pinzon played a principal role on the 
voyage as captain of one of his two ships, and that his brothers were captains of the 
other two, and that they sailed 800 leagues west from the island ofHierro, and that 200 
leagues earlier the Admiral thought he was near land but did not know which way to 
sail, and failing to find land he approached the vessel of Martin Alonso Pinzon to ask 
his opinion, saying that they had sailed 200 leagues more than he expected and should 
have had a landfall? 

Manuel de Valdovinos: He said that ... on the voyage he made with 
Vicente Yanez he heard him and other men from Palos who sailed with 
him say that . . . they had gone 800 leagues west from Hierro, and that 
Vicente Ydnez and Martin Alonso brought their ships close to that of 
Columbus and said, 'Sir, where are we going? We have run 800 leagues 
without a landfall, and the crews are saying that they are doomed.' 
Columbus replied, * Martin Alonso, bear with me this day and night, and if 
I do not find land for you before tomorrow morning, you may cut off my 
head and turn back, for you have ample time to return' . . . and then they 
changed course to southwest by west, and at sunset Columbus told 
everyone to keep a sharp lookout and they would see land, and the crew 
climbed into the maintops and stood on the poop and the foVsle and 
looked into the setting sun, and no one saw land except Columbus 
himself, at sunset, and they all said to each other, 'Can you see it?', and 
none of the witness's shipmates saw it, and when they changed the watch 
at prime Columbus posted lookouts forward on the ships, and as they 
sailed on in the next watch a man from Seville called Juan Bermejo sighted 
land, and the first land was the island of Guanahani. 
Pero Ramirez: He said that ... he heard many of the men from Palos who 
sailed with Columbus say that they would have turned back, but Martin 
Alonso Pinzon made his relatives sail on another four days, and that was 
how they found land. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Juan de Moguer: He said that he heard as much from many people in Palos, 
and he heard it from Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez in Galicia when 
they returned from the voyage of discovery. 

Caret Fernandez: He said that he knows that Martin Alonso was captain of 
one of the ships called the Pinta, on which the witness was purser . . . and 
that after sailing . . . about 400 leagues Martin Alonso approached the 
Admiral and said, 'Sir, we should change course to southwest by west', 
and the Admiral agreed. The Admiral was always encouraging them and 
putting heart into Martin Alonso and the rest of them. They did not find 
land, and they changed course to southwest, and there they found the land 
called Guanahani, and the crew of the Pinta, on which the witness was 
sailing, sighted it first. As a sign of rejoicing Martin Alonso ordered 
lombards fired towards the Admiral's ship, which was following the 
Pinta, and they waited for him to catch them up, and the Admiral shouted, 
'Martin Alonso, you have found land.' Martin Alonso replied, 'Sir, 
remember my reward!' and the Admiral said, *I will give you 5,000 
maravedis. ' The witness knows all this because he was there. 
Francisco Garcia Vallejo: He said that . . . they sailed west from Hierro 800 
leagues, and about 200 leagues before they sighted land the Admiral spoke 
to all the captains, including Martin Alonso, and said 'What are we to do?' 
This was on 6 October 1493. [sic] He said, 'Captain, what are we to do, for 
my crew is complaining? What shall we do, gentlemen?' Then Vicente 
Yanez said, 'Sir, let us keep on until we have sailed i ,000 leagues, and if we 
do not find what we are seeking we can turn back.' Martin Alonso . . . 
said, *What, sir, we have barely left Palos and you have had enough? Sail 
on; God will give us victory and a landfall, and for His sake let us not 
return in shame!' The Admiral replied, 'I hope you may not regret it,' and 
so they sailed on, because of what Martin Alonso had said. 

16. Item: Do they know that the said Martin Alonso Pinzon shouted, 'Sail on! Sail 
on! This is a fleet and embassy of the great King and Queen of Spain; Spain has never 
lost her reputation, and please God she will never lose it through us. If you, sir, wish 
to go back lam resolved to carry on until I find, land, or never to see Spain again!' and 
that they went on because of his opinion and his energy? 

Juan Gonzalez: He said that he heard so from a man of this town called Juan 
Quintero de Argurta, and from other men who were on the voyage, 
whose names he does not recall. 

Juan Galvo: He said that he had heard that Martin Alonso said this to the 
Admiral; many of the sailors who went on the voyage told him so, but he 
does not remember their names. 

17. Item: Do they know that the Admiral asked him if he thought they should stay on 
the same course, and that Martin Alonso said no, that he had told him many times that 
the course was wrong and that they should sail west southwest and would reach land 
sooner, and the Admiral said, ( So be it,' and that they changed course through the 
energy and opinion of Martin Alonso, who at that time was very skilled in everything 
to do with the sea? 


Appendix I 

Juan de Ungria: He said that he had heard this said publicly by men who 
said they had gone with the Admiral. 

Juan Gonzalez: He said that he was told that Martin Alonso Pinzon was 
very skilled in the ways of the sea, and that during the voyage he suggested 
the course mentioned in the question, and so they found land; he was told 
this by the sailors. 

Francisco Garcia Vallejo: He said that he knows, having witnessed it, that 
Martin Alonso said: 'Sir, it seems to me, and I feel it inside me, that if we 
steer more to the southwest we will find land sooner.' The Admiral 
answered, 'Well, Martin Alonso, so be it,' and they changed course to 
west southwest because of Martin Alonso's opinion. That navigational 
decision was reached through his effort and conviction. Asked how he 
knows this, the witness replied that he was there and saw it with his own 

18. Item: Do they know that three or four days after changing course . . . they reached 
the island ofGuanahani? 

Herrando Esteban: He said that he heard this, and that it was public 
knowledge that that was the first land they discovered, and that they 
discovered it at night. When asked whom he heard say so, he said the 
people mentioned in the question and Bartolome Roldan of Palos, the 

Diego Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he heard that when they were 
sailing west on the voyage, at the suggestion of Martfn Alonso they 
changed course to west southwest, and Martin Alonso's reasons were that 
he saw birds over the sea which roost on land, and it was his effort and 
knowledge which made the Admiral take the course he suggested, Martin 
Alonso being such a skilled seafarer . . . and when asked how he knows 
this, he said that he talked with the men who came back from the voyage, 
and that his memory is clear. 

Francisco Garcia Vallejo: . . . Within three days of the change of course this 
witness was there when Martin Alonso saw some little birds flying by, 
called gayeguillos and papagallos, and Martin Alonso said, 'These birds 
mean something: there is land on either side of us,' and in three days they 
found the island ofGuanahani in the Lucayos. On Thursday, 10 October, 
Pedro Nino the piloto said to the Admiral, 'Sir, let us not press on tonight, 
for according to your book I make us only sixteen leagues from land, 
twenty at most. ' The Admiral was very pleased, and told him to say the 
same to Cristobal Garcia Sarmiento, piloto of the Pinta, which he did. 
Crist6bal Garcia asked him for orders, and Pedro Nino said, *We should 
shorten sail tonight and take things steadily; I make us close to land.' 
Cristobal Garcia replied, 'Well, if you ask me we should set a press of sail 
and make all the speed we can,' and Pedro Alonso Nino said, 'Do what 
you like, I will just follow you; when I hear you hail me I will stand off.' 
And that Thursday night the moon shone bright and as it came out a sailor 
on the Pinta called Juan Rodrigo Bermejo, from Molinos near Seville, saw 
a spit of white sand and looked up and saw the land, and then he fired a shot 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

from a lombard; 'Land! Land!' and they held off until daybreak on the 
Friday, n October. It was Martin Alonso Pinzon who discovered 
Guanahani, the first island. The witness knows it because he saw it with 
his own eyes. 

ig. Item: Do they know that after discovering that island they separated and the said 
Martin Alonso Pinzon went off and discovered the island of Espanola and seven other 
islands . . . and that he reached there seven weeks before the Admiral; that he 
anchored, and lay in the Martin Alonso river seven weeks before the Admiral reached 
the island and that the Admiral would never have found it had not Martin Alonso 
made efforts to summon him by sending letters by canoe when the Admiral was sailing 
northwest in the Lower Lucayos, and had by then lost his ship? 

Manuel de Valdovinos: He heard tell . . . that off the island of Guanahani 
some of the ships separated from the others, because it seems that they had 
been told by the Indians that there was an island called Haiti where there 
was a lot of gold, and they told them the course for that island. He heard 
that the island was discovered by Martin Alonso before anyone else, and 
that he sent word to the Admiral by sending letters by canoe, and when the 
Admiral arrived Martin Alonso was already there. 

Anton Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he heard Martin Alonso and his 
crew say so, and this witness was at the Martin Alonso river himself, and 
they asked him why he had stayed waiting for Columbus. 
Garcia Fernando: The witness said that what he knows is that Martin 
Alonso found a river on that voyage and called it Martin Alonso harbour 
. . . and he knows this because he was there himself and heard Martin 
Alonso and others say what is in the question. He went inland with some 
of the others and they came to a watering-place and stopped to drink, and 
there they learned about the gold. He took out a silver cup to drink with 
and an Indian took a fancy to it and went off with it, and he did not follow 
him or do him harm, but continued through the land, seeing the people 
and comporting himself well, and there were signs of gold. 
Francisco Garcia Vallejo: He said that one night Martin Alonso took his 
leave of the Admiral and sailed straight to an island called Baburcas, and 
from there he sailed more than two hundred leagues to the southwest and 
discovered Espanola, and sailed into the river called the Martin Alonso 
river and named it after himself. Forty-five days later he joined the 
Admiral at the island of Monte Cristo and told him that he had discovered 
Espanola and found the gold, and he gave the Admiral goo pesos of gold 
which the Admiral did not accept. While the Admiral was at Monte 
Cristo, before Pinzon arrived, but after the loss of the nao, an Indian came 
and shouted that thegutrunari, an Indian king, wanted him to go back and 
that he would give him a diaho, which is a statue of a man made of gold. 
Vicente Yanez . . . said, 'Sir, do you understand that?' and the Admiral 
replied that he understood some of it, and Vicente Yanez said, *I 
understand it; he is telling you to go back, and he will give you a golden 
man. Go back and get it, sir; it is worth 200 cuentos and it will be a fine 
sample of gold for you to take back to Their Majesties.' The Admiral 


Appendix I 

thought for a while, and then he said, 'Let's leave here and set sail for 
Spain; I have enough under hatches to show to Their Majesties. ' So they 
sailed, and the witness knows that Espanola, and the Martin Alonso river, 
and the gold, were all discovered by Martin Alonso Pinzon. Asked how he 
knows, he said that he was there and saw it all himself. 
Arias Perez: He said that he often heard his father and the other captains and 
masters and crewmen say that after they had reached Guanahani and sailed 
on to look for other islands and territory they had a great storm which 
separated them on the first night. At dawn they could not see each other, 
and Martin Alonso Pinzon, being a man of great energy and knowledge, 
set a different course from that being followed by the Admiral and 
discovered seven islands and the island of Espanola, where he entered a 
river and named it after himself. He saw such a quantity of gold in that land 
that they were all astonished, and he was so pleased that he went inland 
with twelve companions as far as the land of Caonabo, which later 
belonged to Behechio, and found amazing amounts of gold. He came back 
very pleased to the ship with his twelve men, and then went inland again 
towards what is now called the vega in Espanola, about thirty leagues, 
where again they found many signs of gold, and came back to the ship . . . 
and he despatched canoes to the area to which the Admiral had gone. The 
Admiral received the news in the island in the Lucayos where he was 
sailing, and he went immediately to Espanola, and when he arrived the 
witness's father, Martin Alonso, had already discovered it seven weeks 
earlier and found the gold. The witness knows all this because he heard it 
from his father, Martin Alonso, and all the other captains, and the men 
who went inland with him. 

20. Item: Do they know that in those seven weeks Martin Alonso explored Espanola 
and met the main chiefs of the country, reaching the home of Behechio and Caonabo in 
La Maguana, finding great amounts of gold and bartering for much of it before the 
Admiral arrived? 

Juan de Ungria: He said that he heard this from Martin Alonso and the 
others who went with him. 

Cristobal Garcia: He said that he heard that Martin Alonso went inland 
from the river which he named after himself, and found and bargained for 
the gold which he brought back, before the arrival of Admiral Christopher 
Columbus, and that this is common knowledge and is not in doubt; he 
knows this because he has heard it from many people whose names he does 
not recall. 

21 . Item: Do they know that, when the Admiral had received the letters sent by canoe 
by Martin Alonso, and when he had gone to Espanola and had seen the wealth which 
Pinzon had discovered and acquired, they set off immediately for Castile with the 
samples obtained by Martin Alonso? 

Juan de Ungria: He said that this is what he heard from Martin Alonso and 
others who went with him. He saw some of the gold in Martin Alonso's 

The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Juan Calvo: He said that they came back to Spain after the discovery, and 
when the witness was on his way home from Flanders he found them in 
the port of Bayona, on the river Minho, and so he knows that this is the 
truth, and it is common knowledge. 

22. Item: Are they aware that it is common knowledge that if it had not been for the 
said Martin Alonso Pinzon the Admiral would have turned back and would not have 
found land, and that the land was discovered through the wisdom and energy of Martin 
Alonso Pinzon, who explored the island ofEspanola and its gold from the river called 
the Martin Alonso river, where he arrived and anchored before anyone else, and gave 
his name to that river and harbour? 

Garci Fernandez: What he knows is that Martin Alonso discovered the 
island in the ship Pinta, in which this witness was purser, and that the 
river was called the Martin Alonso river. 

Juan Calvo: He said that he knows that it was discovered through the 
efforts of Martin Alonso, who told them to keep going, and that Espanola 
and its gold were discovered because Martin Alonso brought back the 
gold samples and anchored in the river which he named after himself. 
Asked how he knows this, he said that he knew Martin Alonso himself, 
and heard him tell it. 

Francisco Garcia Vallejo: He said that he knows the truth of this because he 
saw it with his own eyes. About 170 leagues from land the Admiral would 
have turned back, if Martin Alonso had agreed, but his energy and 
knowledge kept them going. Martin Alonso discovered the river named 
after him and the land before anyone else. Asked how he knows this, the 
witness said that he was a member of the crew on the voyage, and knows it 
because he saw it. 

23. Item: Are they further aware that it is common knowledge that, if Martin Alonso 
Pinzon had not given his ships and made the voyage with the Admiral on the basis of 
the bargain between them that the Admiral would give him half of all the benefits 
granted him by Their Majesties for discovering land, the Admiral would have found 
neither ships nor the men to crew them, and that everything necessary was found after 
Martin Alonso Pinzon agreed to go, his reputation as a seafarer and a man of spirit 
and enterprise being so high? 

Garci Fernandez: He said that he knew Martin Alonso to be a man of great 
energy and spirit, and that if he had not given the Admiral the two ships 
the Admiral would not have sailed where he did, and would not have 
found a crew, the reason being that nobody knew the Admiral; it was 
through people's respect for Martin Alonso and because he provided the 
two ships that the Admiral made the voyage. 

Anton Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he heard everybody living in 
Palos say that Columbus would not have gone to the Indies, and nobody 
else would have dared to go, if it had not been for Martin Alonso and his 
brothers and relatives, all of whom helped him because they were men of 
spirit and energy, and experienced seafarers. 
Diego Fernandez Colmenero: He said that he knows that with royal 


Appendix I 

authorization the Admiral obtained ships, and could find nobody to crew 
them except the criminals in the town gaol, and Martin Alonso made an 
agreement with him on a shared basis and through his wish to serve His 
Majesty, being a man of daring and experience and spirit who would 
always try to achieve what other men could not, so as to leave his mark in 
the world. He guided the Admiral and went with him and took many 
relatives and friends. The witness knows all this because he saw it with his 
own eyes. 


Appendix II 

T/te Payroll of the Voyage 1 

/Roll or List of Those who went with Christopher Columbus on 
the First Voyage/ 

Jhesus cum Maria sit nobis in via 

/Notarial Account of the Payments made by His Lordship to the 
Men of Palos/ 

Jhesus 1498, on 16 November in Santo Domingo on the island of Espanola, 
At the time when My Lord and Lady the King and Queen agreed that I 
should go to discover the Indies, which was in 1491, 1 established with Their 
Majesties that I would have one-eighth of the proceeds from the expedition, 
and that I would contribute one-eighth of the expenses, as is set out at greater 
length in the said agreement. In order that my costs should be made known I 
wished it to be done in the presence of a public notary in the town of Palos, 
where at Their Majesties' request I prepared three vessels, one nao and two 
caravels, and the money I spent was disbursed in the presence of the said 
notary, who wrote down all this document and the amounts with his own 

In this present year of 1498, when I was at their royal Court, Their 
Majesties exempted me from the expenses of the fleet which I gathered, as 
appears in their letter lodged with others in the Monastery of Las Cuevas in 
Seville, and the authorized transcription of it is here in a book with others, 
Although Their Majesties have exempted me, as stated, and although this 
document has expired, I wish it to be well guarded and signed by the said 
notary, after a transcript has been made here by a public notary who will 


Appendix II 

swear to it, and I wish it to be taken to Palos and then lodged with the other 
important documents in Las Cuevas in Seville. 

Even if this document should be lost, the people are there who received 
the money from me, and they will swear to it, and there too is the account 
of the contadores may ores who paid the same men what was due to them on 
their return from the Indies over and above the following which was 
advanced to them before the voyage, and they received the rest of their due in 
Barcelona in the May of [no date]. 

/In the town of Palos, Saturday 23 July in the year of Our Lord 1492. On this 
day aforesaid Christopher Columbus, Captain of Their Majesties, Our Lord 
and Lady the King and Queen, made payments of wages to the seamen and 
grumetes and other people who are sailing in the said fleet, and they are as 


First to Sancho Ruiz de Gama, piloto, 20 ducats. 

Juan de Moguer, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. 

Gil Perez, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. 

Alvaro, the nephew of Gil Perez, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. The said Gil Perez 

stood surety for him, and v ice versa. 
Pero Sanchez of Montilla, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. 

Pedro Arraez, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. Received for him by Vicente Yanez. 
Juan Ruiz de la Pena, from Biscay, 4,000 maravedis. Received by Vicente 


Juan Arraez, son of Pedro Arraez, 4,000 maravedis. Received by Vicente Yanez. 
Juan Martinez de Azoque, from Denia, 4,000 maravedis. Received for him by 

Vicente Yanez. Inigo de la Orden, of Denia, stood surety for Juan Ruiz de 

la Pena and Juan Martinez de Azoque. 
Juan de la Plaza, of this town, 4,000 maravedis. 
Garcia Fernindez, of Illana, seaman, 4,000 maravedis. 
Juan Verde de Triana, 4,000 maravedis. Received for him by Martin Alonso 


Juan Romero, seaman of Pero Gonzalez Ferrando, 4,000 maravedis. 
Francisco Garcia Vallejo, of Moguer, 4,000 maravedis. 
Bartomole" Vives, of this town, 4,000 maravedis. 
Juan de Medina, tailor, of Palos, 4,000 maravedis. 
Cristobal Garcia Sarmiento, piloto, 8,030 maravedis. 
Juan Quintero, son of Argueta Arraez [?], 18 ducats, 6,750 maravedis. 
Juan Reynal, of Huelva, 12 ducats, 4,500 maravedis. 
Bartolome Roldan, of Moguer, seaman of Alonso Lopez of Moguer, 

received 4,000 maravedis. He pledged as surety certain houses in the said 

town, bordered on the one side by Gonzalo Alonso Maldonado and on the 

other . . . 

Martin Alonso received 4,000 maravedis for Juan Vezano. 
The said Martin Alonso also received 4,000 maravedis for Antonio Calabres, 

his servant. 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Sancho de Rama, of this town of Palos, 4,000 maravedis. Martin Alonso 
Pinzon stood surety for him. 


Juan Arias, Portuguese, son of Lope Arias of Tavira, 2,666 maravedis. 

Alonso, servant of Juan Rodriguez de Guinea, son of Francisco Chocero, 

2,666 maravedis. Received by the said Juan Rodriguez. 
Juan, servant of Juan Buenano, 2,666 maravedis. The said Juan Buenano stood 

surety for him. 

Pedro Tegero, 2,666 maravedis. Juan de Moguer stood surety. 
Fernando de Triana, 2,666 maravedis. Vicente Ydnez stood surety for him. 
Juan Cuadrado, 2,666 maravedis. Juan Guerrero, son of [?] stood surety for 


[A leaf missing] 

Miguel de Soria, servant of Diego de Lepe, 2,666 maravedis. His master, 

Diego de Lepe, stood surety for him. He was given 8 doblas. 
Rodrigo Gallego, servant of Gonzalo Fuego, 2,666 maravedis. 

[Material probably lost] 

The said Martin, his master, stood surety for him. He was given 8 doblas. 
Bernal, servant of Alonso, seaman of Juan de Mafra, 8 doblas, or 2,920 

maravedis. Received by his said master. 
Alonso de Palos, 8 doblas, 2,600 [altered to 2,900] maravedis. Martin Alonso 

Pinzon stood surety for him. 
Andres de Yruenes, 7 ducats. Received by Juan Reynal. He is to have 2,666 


Francisco Mendes, of Huelva, 2,666 maravedis. 
Martin Alonso Pinzon received 2,666 maravedis for Fernando Mendes. 

[On a separate sheet] 

Diego de Arana, Marshal of Their Majesties' Fleet, has received 8,000 


Francisco Martin Pinzon, Master of the Pinta, has received 8,000 maravedis. 
Martin Alonso Pinzon, Captain of the Pinta, received 16,000 maravedis. 



Chapter t 

1 The Queen was probably reluctant to 
approve anything which might be seen as 
a contravention of the 1479 treaty of 
Alca?ovas, under which Spain agreed to 
leave Atlantic exploration to Portugal 
except in the area of the Canaries. See 
Florentine Perez Embid, Los descubri- 
mientos en el Atldntico y la rivalidad 
castellano-portuguesa haste el tratodo de 
Tordesillas, Seville, 1948, especially pp. 


2 His conviction that the voyage was 
divinelv inspired is most apparent in his 
Libro de profecias, a conglomeration of 
Latin extracts from the Scriptures and 
the fathers of the Church, mostly allud- 
ing to islands and their discovery, or to 
evangelism. See the edition and Spanish 
translation by Francisco Alvarez Seis- 
dedos, Madrid, 1984. The Libro was 
gathered later in life, and reveals an 
obsessive, self-justifying mania. 

3 In his Historta de (as indias, at a point 
where Columbus instructs an Indian 
intermediary to tell a local ruler that the 
Spaniards have come down from Heaven 
and are looking for gold, Las Casas 
comments sarcastically on the unlikeli- 
hood of the combination. SeeBartolome 
de las Casas, Historic de las Indias, in Vol. 
95 of the Biblioteca de Autores Espanoles, 
Madrid, 1957, pp. 183-4. Future referen- 
ces to this work use the abbreviation 
'LCH'. Las Casas (1474-1566) was one of 

the early colonists of the West Indies, 
After taking part in the exploitation of 
native labour in agriculture and mining, 
he became a Dominican friar, crew con- 
cerned at the abuse of the Indians, and 
became their outspoken champion. He 
had access to a copy of Columbus's 
Journal, his own recopying of which 
provides the closest available text to the 

4 It is impossible to give exact equiva- 
lents for these, since they varied with the 
length of the day. Terce was three hours 
after sunrise, vespers an hour before 
sunset, and compline an hour after 

5 The proliferation of such strongholds 
gave Castilla its name. 

6 This is evident in sundry ways. In the 
siege of Cuzco the Inca army was 
defeated by the miraculous emergence 
from the clouds of St James of Compos- 
tela, Santiago Matamoros (the Moor- 
slayer), with the same white-clad angels 
who defeated the Islamic army at Hacinas 
in Castile in the tenth century. See the 
illustration in Felipe Guaman Poma de 
Ayala, Nueva cronica y buengobierno, ed. 
Jonn V. Murra and others, 3 vols, 
Madrid, 1987, fol 404. The Codex 
Mendoza, a pictorial manuscript by an 
indigenous artist showing Aztec life and 
customs (and, more interestingly for the 
Spanish Viceroy who sent it back to 
Spain, the potential for taxation and 
commerce), has an explanatory com- 
mentary by a Spanish scribe. To denote 
aspects of Aztec religion, he uses Arabic 



words: the pagan religious leader is not a 
bishop or a prelate, but an alfaqui, a 
Moorish high priest; the place of worship 
is not a church or temple, but a mezquita, 
a mosq uc, He sees the Aztec as a trans- 
Atlantic variety of Moor. See Codex 
Mendoza, e<i. James C. Clarke, 3 vols, 
London, 1938. Columbus, similarly, 
uses words of Arabic origin to describe 
unfamiliar artefacts: azagayas, assegais, 
for the local weapons; almadias for the 
Indian canoes. 

7 Columbus asked his heirs to continue 
to use them, in the same form, describing 
them as an X with an S above, then an M 
with an A above it and an S above that, 
and then a Greek Y with an S above it. 
The manner of this description suggests 
that we may have three inverted abbrevi- 
ations: XS, MAS, and YS, but expand- 
ing them is not easy. 'Christus' for the 
first, '.Maria' for the second, 'lesus' or 
1 Yosue' for the third? None of this is at all 
convincing. The letters have also been 
interpreted as the initials of a Latin sen- 
tence, Sewus sum Altissimi Salvatoris ('I 
am a servant of the Most High Saviour'), 
followed by the initials of Christ, Mary 
and possibly Joseph. See John B. 
Thacher, Christopher Columbus: His Life, 
His Work, His Remains, as Revealed by 
Original Printed and Manuscript Records, 3 
vols, New York, 1903-4, Vol. in, p. 455 
(future references use the abbreviation 
'Thacher'), and Samuel Eliot Morison, 
Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of 
Christopher Columbus, 2 vols, Boston, 
1942, Chapter xxv (future references use 
the abbreviation 'Morison, Admiral'). 

8 The LaCosa chart is well reproduced in 
colour in Michel Mollat du Jourdin and 
others, Les Portulans: Cartes marines du 
XllY au XVIP siecle, Fribourg, 1984 
(English version, Sea Charts of the Early 
Explorers, New York, 1984), Plate 22. 

9 In the early colonial period, when the 
Catholic Church took advantage of 
indigenous traditions of mural painting 
to convey Christian images to the 
Indians, the figure of St Christopher was 
painted as a colossus on the walls of 
various Mexican churches. See Emily 
Edwards, Painted Walls of Mexico from 
Prehistoric Times until Today, Austin and 
London, I966,pp. 84-5. 

10 Fernando Columbus, Historic delta 
vita e dtijatti di Cristoforo Colombo, ed. 
R. Caddeo, 2 vols, Milan, 1930, Ch. i. 

Future references use the abbreviation 
'FCH'. There is an English translation 
by Benjamin Keen, New Brunswick, 

Chapter 2 

1 On Behaim, see E. G. Ravenstein, 
Martin Behaim: His Life and His Globe, 
London, 1908. 

2 Carlos Sanz, *E1 mapa del mundo, 
segtin el proceso cartpgrafico de 
Occidente y su influencia en el de 
Oriente; y un mapa del mundo verdader- 
amente importante de la famosa univer- 
sidad de Yale', Boletin de la Real Sociedad 
Geogrdfica, Vol. en, 1966, pp. 38-42. 

3 Sanz, 'El mapa . . .', suggests that the 
copy in the Yale University Library is 
pnnted, but it may be a manuscript with 
a printed border. 

4 One could quote many similar 
examples. For a full translation see The 
Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian, ed. 

John Masefield, Everyman, London and 
New York, 1907. Future references use 
the abbreviation *MP'. 

5 For the full version of this episode, see 
MP, pp. 158-60. 

6 He had previously, at Easter, kissed the 
Bible and made all his courtiers do the 

7 The ensuing account of European 
involvement in the far east owes a con- 
siderable debt to L.-H. Farias, Historia 
universal de las exploraciones, Madrid, 
1982, Vol. i, pp. 386 ff.; A. C. Moule, 
Christians in China before the year 1550 [ , 
London, 1930; and the four volumes of 
the collection by Sir Henry Yule, Cathay 
and the Way Thither, 2nd edn, London 
(Hakluyt Society), 1913-15. Future 
references to the Yule collection use the 
abbreviation 'Cathay'. 

8 Cathay, Vol. i, pp. 101-21. 

9 Cathay, Vol. in, p. 5. 

10 Cathay, Vol. in, p. 55. 

11 For Montecorvino's letters, see 
Cathay, Vol. in, pp. 45-70. 

12 Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, MS Fr 
2810, fols I36v ff. 

13 Cathay, Vol. in, p. 102. 

14 Cathay, Vol. in, pp. 137-73. 

15 The Islamic geographer Ibn Batuta 
says that the journey from Sarai to 
Urgandi took 30-40 days. He walked the 
stage from Astrakhan to Sarai on the 
frozen river, taking 3 days. (Cathay, Vol. 
in, p. 146 n.) 



16 Cathay, Vol. in, pp. 152-5- 

17 'I was long tarrying among the 
Saracens, and I preached to them for 
several days openly and publicly the 
name of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I 
opened out and laid bare the cheats, 
falsehoods and blunders of their false 

Frophet; with a loud voice, and in public, 
did confound their barkings . . . and 
then these children of the Devil tried to 
tempt and pervert me with bribes, 
promising me wives and handmaidens, 
gold and silver and lands, horses and 
cattle, and other delights of this world. 
But when in every way I rejected all their 
promises with scorn, then for two days 
together they pelted me with stones, 
besides putting fire to my face and my 
feet, plucking out my beard, and heaping 
upon me for a lengtn of time all kinds of 
insult and abuse' (Cathay, Vol. in, pp. 

1 8 'Cathay is a great country, fair, noble 
and rich, and full of merchants. Thither 
merchants go to seek spices and all man- 
ner of merchandise, more commonly 
than in any other part. And you shall 
understand that merchants who come 
from Genoa, or from Venice, or from 
Romania, or other parts of Lombardy, 
go by sea and by land eleven or twelve 
months, or more sometimes, before they 
reach the isle of Cathay . ' The Voyages and 
Travels of Sir John Maundevile Kt., ed. 
H. M., London, 1892, p. 133. 

19 Cathay, Vol. in, p. 14. 

20 Cathay, Vol. I, p. 121. 

21 Cathay, Vol. I, pp. 173-4. 

22 Cathay, Vol. iv, p. 198. 

23 See F. Perez Embid, Los descubrimien- 
to$ . . . 

24 Quoted by Armando Cortesao, The 
Nautical Chart 0/1424, Coimbra, 1954, p. 
39. This work is an invaluable and well 
illustrated source of information on the 
legendary Atlantic islands. 

25 For an English version of the text, an 
excessively imaginative interpretation of 
the navigation involved in the voyage, 
and suggestions about the identity of the 
islands visited, see Paul H. Chapman, 
The Man Who Led Columbus to America, 
Atlanta, 1973. 

26 Cortesao, The Nautical Chart, pp. 

27 Cortesao, The Nautical Chart, pp. 

28 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. 9. 

Chapter 3 

1 For a list of these, see Morison, 
Admiral, Vol. i, pp. 21-2. 

2 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. i. 

3 Ignacio B. Anzoategui (ed.), Los cuatro 
viajes del Almirante y su testamento, 3rd 
edn, Buenos Aires, 1958, pp. 219-21. 

4 See Morison, Admiral, Vol. i, pp. 20-1 
n. 2. 

5 Cristoforo Colombo: Documenti e prove 
della sua appartenenza a Genova, 
Bergamo, 193 1 . There is also an English- 
German edition, Bergamo, 1932. Later 
references to this collection use the ab- 
breviation 'Document?. 

6 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. i. 

7 Documenti, p. 105. 

8 Documenti, p. 123. 

9 Documenti, p. 125. 

10 Documenti, p. 127. 

n Around 1445, according to Morison 
(Admiral, Vol. i, p. 13). 

12 Documenti, pp. 109, 115. 

13 Documenti, p. 115. 

14 Morison, Admiral, Vol. I, p. 13. 

15 See Cesare de Lollis (ed.), Scritti di 
Cristoforo Colombo, Part i, Vols i and ii, 
of the Raccolta di documenti e studi publicati 
dalla R. Commissione Colombiana pel 
quarto centenario della scoperta dell' America, 
14 vols, Rome, 1892-4, i, ii, pp. 52-3, 
199-200. Future references use the abbre- 
viation 'Raccolta\ 

16 Documenti, p. 143. 

17 Documenti, p. 147. 

1 8 Documenti, p. 135. 

19 Documenti, p. 149. 

20 Documenti, pp. 109, 151. 

21 Documenti, p. 133. 

22 Morison, Admiral, Vol. i, pp. 17-18. 

23 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. 3. 

24 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. 3. 

25 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. 4. 

26 See Morison, Admiral, Vol. i, pp. 
35-6nn. 4-6. 

27 For detailed references, see Morison, 
Admiral, Vol. Vpp. 36-?n. 12. Fernando 
gives a rather garbled account (FCH, Ch. 

28 FCH, Vol. i, Ch. 4. 

29 Raccolta, Part I, Vol. ii, p. 292. 

30 The note in question says 26 fathoms. 
Even if one takes this to be the Genoese 
fathom of about 2 feet, or postulates a 
scribal transformation of feet to fathoms, 
the idea is outlandish. 

31 Documenti, p. 137. 

32 See Thacher, Vol. i, pp. 190, 193, for 



the text of the Genoese chronicler 
Antonio Gallo; Cecil Jane, Voyages of 
Columbus, London, 1930, P- 309, for that 
of Andres Bernaldez of Seville. 

33 For the dating, see Morison, Admiral, 
Vol. i, p. 59 n. 19. 

34 FCH, Ch. 5. 

35 LCH, p. 348. 

36 Raccolta, Part I, Vol. ii, pp. 294, 375- 

37 Raccolta, Part I, Vol. ii, p. 40?- 

38 FCH, Ch. 4. 

39 Alfragan was an Islamic geographer 
who computed the degree of longitude as 
56% miles. His mile unit was the Arabic 
one, equal to 2, 164 metres. Columbus, in 
a typical piece of self-delusion, thought 
Alfragan was using the Roman mile of 
1,480 metres, and thereby reached the 
conclusion that the degree, and therefore 
the world, were substantially smaller 
than they are. For a table of different 
geographers' calculations on the size of 
the degree, see Morison, Admiral, Vol. I, 
pp. 87, 103 n. u. 

Chapter 4 

i Juan Gil (in his Colon y su tiempo, Vol. I 

01 Mitos y Utopias del descubrimiento, 
Madrid, 1989) suggests that most of 
the works were gathered and annotated 
by Columbus after the second voyage, 
when his cosmography was questioned. 
See especially pp. 22-3, 121-45. 

2 For a complete edition of his comments 
on Marco Polo see Juan Gil (ed.), El Libro 
de Marco Polo anotado por Cristobal Coldn. 
Version de Rodrigo de Santaella, Madrid, 

3 MP, pp. 388-9. 

4 MP. pp. 347-8. This idea is also men- 
tioned by other accounts of the orient, 
including those of Ibn Batuta and 
Jordanus (see Cathav, Vol. iv, p. 94). 

5 Notably by Charles de la Ronciere in 
La Carte de Christophe Colomb, Paris, 

6 For a full translation of both letters, see 
Samuel Eliot Morison, Journals and other 
Documents on the Life and Voyages of 
Christopher Columbus, New York, 1963, 
pp. 12-15. Future references use the 
abbreviation 'Morison, 1963'. 

7 FCH, Ch. 9. 

8 Samuel Eliot Morison, Portuguese 
Voyages to America in the Fifteenth 
Century, Cambridge, Mass., 1940, pp. 

9 See Morison, Admiral, Vol. i, p. 105. 

10 FCH, Ch. n; LCH, pp. 106-8. Las 
Casas gives full details of Columbus's 
demands, which are largely reproduced 
in those later acceded to by Ferdinand 
and Isabella. It may well be that Las Casas 
simply assumed that they coincided. 

n FCH, Ch. n; LCH, pp. 108-9. 

12 On La Rabida, see Antonio Rumeu de 
Armas, La Rabida y el descubrimiento de 
America, Madrid, 1968; Angel Ortega, 
La Rabida: historia documental critica, 4 
vols, Seville, 1925-6. 

13 See FCH, Ch. 12; LCH, pp. no ff. 

14 On Columbus's movements in this 
period, see Henri Vignaud, Histoire Criti- 
que de la grande entreprise de Christophe 
Colomb, 2 vols, Paris, 1911, Vol. i, pp. 
399~73o; Vol. n, pp. 19-134; Juan Man- 
zano Manzano, Cristobal Colon: Siete anos 
decisivos de su vida, 1485-1492, Madrid, 

15 Las Casas appears to place this 
approach five years later, after Col- 
umbus's prolonged disappointment at 
the Court, though his wording is vague 
and it may be that he inserted his account 
of the discussions with the Duke as an 
afterthought. Fernando, too, says that 
application was made to the Duke after 
failure to convince the King and Queen. 
See FCH, Ch. 12; LCH, p. 114. 

1 6 See Vignaud, Histoire, Vol. I, pp. 

17 LCH, p. 115. 

1 8 Raccolta, Part I, Vol. ii, pp. 169 and 

19 LCH, p. III. 

20 Las Casas derides the idea, but even an 
advanced thinker like Martin Behaim 
could express a similar idea in 1492. He 
states on his globe that 'the inhabitants of 
India . . . sail to this island of Madagas- 
car, normally in twenty days; it takes 
them three months' hard work to get 
back, because the slope of the sea takes 
them rapidly south. ' 

21 FCH, Ch. 12; q.v. for all this, with 

LCH, pp. III-I2. 

22 LCH, pp. 113-14. 

23 Published in the Real Academia de 
Historia's Coleccion de documentos ineditos 
relatives al descubrimiento, 2 a Serie, 25 
vols, 1885-1932, Vols vii and vm, 
1892-4. Future references use the abbre- 
viation t Pleitos\ There is a new edition by 
Antonio Muro Orejon and others, Pleitos 



colombinos, in at least 8 vols, Seville, 

24 For an English translation of these 
documents, see Morison, Journals and 
other Documents . . ., pp. 26-36. 

25 He still had debts to Genoese mer- 
chants when he made his will in 1 506. See 
Anzoategui, Los cuatro viajes . . ., pp. 

26 Anzoategui, Los cuatro viajes . . ., pp. 

27 LCH, p. 124. 

28 On the financing of the voyage, see 
Vignaud, Histoire, Vol. n, pp. 110-28. 

29 The royal document requisitioning 
the vessels from Palos is translated in 
Morison, Journals and other Documents 

-, PP- 3I-3- 

30 LCH, p. 124. 

31 On the Pinz6n family, see Alice 
Gould, 'Documentos ineditos sobre 
hidalguia y genealogia de la familia 
Pinzon 1 , Boletin de la Real Academia de 
Historia, Vol. 91, 1927, pp. 319-75. 


1 A good summary of the history and 
nature of the two types may be found in 
Jose Maria Martinez Hidalgo, Colum- 
bus 's Ships, ed. Howard I. Chapelle, 
Barre, Mass., 1966, pp. 20-34. 

2 On the nao and carrack, see E. Manera 
Rodriguez, El buque en la armada 
espanola, Madrid, 1981, pp. 1-74. 

3 See Martinez Hidalgo, Columbus's 
Ships, pp. 20-8; Manera Rodriguez, El 
buque . . ., pp. 76-84; Quirino da 
Fonseca, A caravela portuguesa, Coimbra, 


4 See the entry for 23 January. 

5 Raccolta, Part in, Vol. ii, p. 103. 

6 Martinez Hidalgo, Columbus's Ships, 

P- 47- 

7 Martinez Hidalgo, Columbus's Ships, 

?. 46. 
Alice Gould, 'Nueva lista documen- 
tada de los tripulantes de Colon en 1492', 
Boletin de la Real Academia de Historia, 
Vols LXXXV, pp. 34-49, U5-59, 353~79; 
LXXXVI, pp. 491-532; LXXXVII, pp. 

22-60; LXXXVIII, pp. 721-84; XC, pp. 

532-55; xci, pp. 318-75; xcii, pp. 776- 
95; ex vii, pp. 145-88. 

9 Diego Garcia de Palacio, Instruccion 
ndutica para el buen uso y regimiento de las 
naos, Mexico, 1587, fbl. H9v. 

10 Garcia de Palacio, Instruccion ndutica, 
fol. no. 

n Morison, Admiral, Vol. i, p. I97n. 18. 

12 Columbus mentions him in the entry 
for 7 February. 

13 Pleitos, in Boletin de la Real Academia 
de Historia, Vol. xcn, p. 782 n. 3. 

14 See Clifford W. Hawkins, The Dhow: 
An Illustrated History of the Dhow and its 
World, Lymington, Hampshire, 1977, p. 
96. Hawkins mentions the dhow Kanak- 
tara, of just over 150 tons, trading across 
the Indian ocean from Mombasa to 
Kenya in the early 19705, with a total 
crew of 10, and a 5O-ton dhow earlier in 
the century making voyages of over 
2,000 miles with a crew of only 8. 

15 A. B. C. Whipple, The Clipper Ships, 
Amsterdam, 1980, p. 81. 

16 Alan Villiers, The Way of a Ship, 
London, 1954, pp. 17-19, 270. 

17 See entry for 2 January. 

18 Raccolta, Part n, Vol. ii, pp. 21117. 

19 From pp. 54-5 of the *Carta escrita al 
licenciado Miranda de Ron, particular 
amigo del autor: En cjue se pinta un 
navio, y la vida y ejercicios de los 
oficiales y marineros de el, y como lo 
pasan los que hacen viajes por el mar*, 
in Cartas de Eugenia de Salazar escritas a 
muy particulars amigos suyos, Madrid 
(Sociedad de Bibliofilos Espanoles), 
1866, pp. 35-57. Later references use the 
abbreviation 'Carta'. 

Chapter 6 

1 See above, my n. 19 to Ch. 5. 

2 Instrucci6n ndutica, fol. 109. 

3 Carta, p. 54. 

4 James E. Kelley, Jr, 'In the wake of 
Columbus on a portolan chart*, in Louis 
de Voysey, Jr and John Parker, In the 
Wake of Columbus: Islands and Contro- 
versy, Detroit, 1985, pp. 77-111. 

Chapter 7 

1 Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, MS Sig 
Vitrina 6, n. 7. The manuscript was 
published in facsimile in Carlos Sanz, 
Diario de Colon, Madrid, 1962. My 
working source has been the palaeo- 
graphic transcription, with facing 
English translation, in the edition by 
Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr, 
The 'Diario' of Christopher Columbus's 
First Voyage to America, 1492-1493, 
London ana Norman, Oklahoma, 1989, 
referred to in footnotes as *DK*. 

2 See my n. 10 to Ch. i. 



3 See my nn. 5 to the entry for 18 

4 FCH, Vol. i, pp. 198-200. 
$ DK, pp. 240-44. 

6 The Journal text is obviously garbled at 
this point. See my n. 5 to the entry for 25 

7 FCH, Vol. r, pp. 202-5. 

8 DK, pp. 276-80. 

9 DK, pp. 196-8. 

10 LCH, p. 175- 

11 On the language of the Journal, see 
Ramon Menendez Pidal, La lengua de 
Crist6bd Colon, Buenos Aires, 1947; 
Virgil I. Milani, The Written Language of 
Christopher Columbus^ supplement to 
Forum Italicum, Buffalo, 1973; and the 
clear summary by Ralph J. Penny, 'The 
Language of Christopher Columbus*, in 
the parallel texts edition of the Journal 
of the First Voyage by Barry W. Ife, 
Warminster, 1990, pp. xxvii-xl. 


3 August 

i His word is virazon, translated by 
Dunn and Kelley as 'sea breeze*. The 
term is explained by Guillen Tato (p. 
128) as 'a wind which follows the sun on 
certain coasts, blowing first from the east 
and then veering west until it becomes a 
land breeze'. In 1587 Garcia de Palacip 
(Instruction ndutica, fol. I47v) explains it 
slightly differently: *it is when at night or 
in the morning there has been a land 
breeze and at middav the wind veers to 
die sea. ' Columbus s two changes of 
course are explained by the wind veering 
west late in me day; he sails as close to it 
as he can. 

g August 

i From now onwards Columbus spent a 
tiresome month in the Canaries, trying 
to ensure the seaworthiness of his fleet 
before setting out westward. Las Casas 
abandons the day-by-day account of the 
Journal and summarizes the content in a 
few lines. Fernando's account is much 
fuller (FCH, Ch. 17). According to him, 
having failed to make Gran Canaria, 
Columbus left Pinzdn in the Pinta off the 
coast of the island, with instructions to 
try to exchange her for another ship 
while he himself, with the Santa Maria 
and the Nina, proceeded to Gomera for 

the same purpose. He reached Gomera 
on Sunday, 12 August, and sent a boat 
ashore. It returned on the morning of the 
1 3th with the news that no ship was to be 
had, but that the mistress of the island, 
Dona Beatriz de Bobadilla, was due to 
return from Gran Canaria with a suitable 
forty-ton ship. Columbus decided to 
wait for her, but sent a man off two days 
later on a vessel bound for Gran Canaria 
to tell Pinz6n what was happening. After 
a frustrating wait, Columbus decided to 
set offback to Gran Canaria; he sailed on 
the 24th, overtook the vessel with his 
man aboard, and spent the night near 
Tenerife, which was in the throes of a 
volcanic eruption. He reached Gran 
Canaria on the 25th to find that Pinz6n, 
after much difficulty, had arrived only 
the day before, and that Dona Beatriz had 
sailed on the previous Monday. 
Columbus decided to make the best of a 
bad job, refitted the Pinta's rudder, and 
took advantage of the delay to change the 
lateen sails of the Nina to the square rig 
more suitable for the following trade 
winds which he was expecting. Las Casas 
mistakenly says that the Pinta was the 
vessel wnose rig was altered; see 
Morison, Admiral^ Vol. I, p. 172. 

15 September 

i LCH, p. 129. 

16 September 

1 The Las Casas text continues (DK, p. 
32) "and from then onwards*, probably a 
comment by Las Casas, unless Colum- 
bus himself inserted it at some later date 
when reading over the Journal. 

2 LCH, p. 130. 

17 September 

1 LCH, p. 130. 

2 The word is toninas. See Morison, 
1963, P. 97, 1 6 November, n. 5. 
Columbus' s word for *tunny fish* is atun. 

ig September 

1 FCH, i, pp. 142-3. 

2 Las Casas adds (DK, p. 36): 'as indeed 
there were, and he was sailing in between 
them 1 . 

3 LCH, p. 131. 

20 September 

i FCH, i p. 143. Las Casas 's text (DK, p. 



36) reads: 'It was a river bird, not a sea 
bird; its feet were like a gull's. ' 
2 LCH, p. 131. 

21 September 

i LCH (pp. 132-3) introduces here a long 
and sententious passage about the rebel- 
liousness of the crew and Columbus's 
dignity and resolution in quelling it. The 
style and tone are so markedly different 
from Columbus's own that, while the 
passage may well be based on further 
comments by Columbus, it is clearly 
largely Las Casas's own creation, from 
which it would be risky to attempt any 
re-creation of the original. Fernando 
(FCH, i, p. 144) also says more about the 
discontent; he is almost certainly sum- 

24 September 

i LCH, p. 133. In LCH Las Casas then 
expands again, very much in his own 
style and usual adulatory tone, on the 
fortitude of Columbus and the discon- 
tent of the crew, who plotted to throw 
the Admiral overboard and pretend that 
he had fallen while taking a sight with his 
auadrant or astrolabe. He also mentions 
tne Pinz6ns, their role in fomenting the 
discontent, and Columbus's repeated 
complaints about them. 

25 September 

1 LCH, p. 135: This chart is the one sent 
to him by Paolo the physician, of 
Florence, which is now in my own 
possession, along with more of the 
Admiral's things, and writings in his 
own hand.' 

2 He shouted, 'Albricias!' The word 
means 'reward', and was shouted as a 
greeting in mediaeval Spain by a bringer 
of good news. 

3 Las Casas interpolates (DK, p. 42): 'So 
he wrote down tne distance run on the 
voyage in two ways, the shorter version 
being false and the longer one true/ 

4 See Morison, 1963, p. 57 n. 4, for 

jo September 

i The Guards, a group of stars near the 
Pole Star, playecf an important part iji 
early navigation. The reference to their 
position relative to the arms has to do 
with the idea of a human figure centred 
on the Pole with arms stretched east and 

west. For a fuller explanation, see DK, p. 
47 n. 3, and Morison, 1963, p. 59 n. 2. 
2 This difference in compass readings 
(see also the entries for 13 and 17 
September) may be due simply to the 
revolution of the Pole Star around the 
celestial pole, though Dunn and Kelley 
(DK, p. 49, n. i) suggest that the variation 
is so extreme in this case that it may have 
been due to proximity to some iron 
object on the snip. 

6 October 

i The Las Casas text (DK p. 52) reads al 
almiranteparedo que dezia esto m. alonsovor 
la Isla de cipango; a word is erased alter 
que. Alvar reads the sentence as el 
almiranteparedo que no. Dezia esto Martin 
Alamo por . . ., i.e., 'the Admiral 
thought not. Martin Alonso was saying 
this with the island of Cipango in mind. 

7 October 

1 Femando's account of the events of this 
date says that land was sighted to die 
west at daybreak, but as it was indistinct 
nobody on the Santa Maria wished to 
claim the first sighting for fear of losing 
the reward of 10,000 maravedu ^promised 
by Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus 
having said that anyone calling 'land!* 
who did not make good the claim in three 
days would lose the reward even if he did 
sight land later. This may well be an 
attempt by Fernando to take some of the 
glory of the first sighting away from the 

2 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 54) has 
guesueste, 'west southeast*, a nonexistent 

8 October 

1 Las Casas interpolates (DK, p. 54): 
'unless the handwriting is misleading'. 

2 The Las Casas text (DK p. 54) has 
grajaos instead of the usual garjaos (prob- 
ably through confusion with grajo> 

n October 

1 This entry includes 12 October. 

2 FCH, Vol. i, p. 158. 

3 FCH, Vol. i, p. 159. The Las Casas text 
(DK, p. 56) has un palillo cargado descara- 
mojos. Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 57) 
translate escaramojos as 'barnacles'; 
Morison as 'rose hips'. 

4 FCH, Vol. i, p. 159. 



5 The mysterious light now described is 
a controversial subject. The uncharitable 
have suggested that Columbus invented 
it because ofhis wish to be considered the 
first man to make visual contact with the 
New World. Others have accepted that it 
was a light on shore, sometimes with the 
aim of bolstering ideas on Columbus's 
landfall, or suggested that it was a fire- 
brand in an Indian canoe. The naviga- 
tional details in this entry suggest that the 
source of light must have been well out in 
the Atlantic, over thirty miles from the 
landfall. A strong possibility is that what 
Columbus saw was part of the reproduc- 
tive process of a marine annelid of the 
genus Odontosyllis, whose evening or 
nocturnal courting procedure, on the 
surface, involves the extrusion by the 
female of streams of brilliantly luminous 
matter along with the ova. She does this 
several times over a period of a few 
minutes, the purpose of the luminosity 
being to guide the males to the ova for 
fertilisation. The display occurs in the 
winter months, and is linked with the 
third quarter of the moon. For more 
details, see L. R. Crawshay, 'Possible 
Bearing of a Luminous Syllid on the 
Question of the Landfall of Columbus', 
Nature, Vol. 136, 1935, p. 559. 

6 To jog offand on is to make short tacks 
towards and away from the coast. It was 
a procedure commonly carried out at 
night off an unfamiliar coast which it 
would have been dangerous to approach 
in the dark. 

7 Las Casas (DK, p. 62) inserts: 'one of the 
Lucayos, which was called Guanahani in 
the todians* language*. The first land 
sighted is generally thought to have been 
wading Island, but the landfall has been 
the subject of controversy. Recently a 
computer-generated reconstruction of 
Columbus s course, taking into account 
magnetic variation, meteorological data, 
the effect of currents and historical ship 
drift information led American scholars 
to the conclusion that Guanahani was, 
after all, probably Wading island (Philip 
L. Richardson and Roger A. Goldsmith, 
*The Columbus Landfall: Voyage Track 
Corrected for Winds and Currents', 
Oceanus, Vol. 30, 1987, pp. 3-10). 

8 See Dunn and Kefiey (DK, p. 67 n.) for 
a discussion of the ambiguity of this 

9 cejas. Compare FCH, Vol. i, p. 168: i 

capelli . . . tagliati sopra le orecchie, 'their 
hair cut over their ears'. There has evi- 
dendy been a scribal confusion between 
cejas and orejas. 

10 This is probably a reference to the 
Guanches, a people of African origin 
occupying the Canaries before the con- 
quest oy the Spanish. 

jj October 

1 This is a Spanish word of Arabic 
origin, used in the fifteenth century to 
describe the dugout canoes of north 
Africa. The word'canoe* is derived from 
canoa, a Caribbean Indian word which 
Columbus does not learn until 26 
October. I have therefore preserved the 
use of almadia until this later date, and 
translated canoa as 'canoe* thereafter. 

2 Ceotis and blancas are coins; an arroba 
was a trading weight, approximately a 
quarter of a hundredweight. 

3 The transitional state of fifteenth- 
century tense use, coupled with Colum- 
bus's rather opaque syntax, makes this 
ambiguous in the Las Casas text (DK, p. 
72); it could mean 'would have'. 

14 October 

i Del cielo (DK, p. 74) means both 'from 

Heaven' and 'from the sky'. 

1$ October 

1 Rum Cay. 

2 This passage is obscure and probably 
garbled (DK, pp. 78-80). My version is in 
accord with the restoration proposed by 
Dunn and Kelley, which is supported by 
the amplified account given in LCH, p. 
148: 'One of the Indians . . .jumped into 
the sea, climbed into the canoe and went 
off in it, with the boat in pursuit, which 
could not overtake it however hard the 
men rowed ... He says that another 
Indian had escaped the previous night.' 

3 Long Island. 

4 FCH, Vol. i, p. 173: '. . . and apiece of 
earth similar to cinnabar, with which the 
people paint their bodies . . . and some 
dried leaves which they gready value for 
their perfume and health-giving proper- 

16 October 

i The Las Casas text reads las isla. The s 
of las may be a scribal error, but it has 
been taken to mean that Columbus was 
thinking of more than one island (see 



Oliver Dunn, 'Columbus's First Landing 
Place', p. 44). Vigneras suggests Rum 
Cay and Conception Island. 

2 He forgets that he has told us this. 

3 I.e., mid-morning. 

4 The Las Casas text has sursudueste, 
*ssw'; probably a scribal error for sur- 

5 panizo. The word normally means 
'millet*, but the crop alluded to was 
probably maize, maiz. The word panizo 
is now applied to maize in parts of Latin 

6 ni estos son enxeridos porque sepueda dezir 
aue el enxerto lo haze (DK, p. 88). Both 
Dunn and Kelley (p. 89) and Morison 
(1963, p, 72) mistranslate this, ignoring 
the subjunctive and taking porque to 
mean 'because*. Morison's version is the 
worse: 'Nor are these grafted, for one can 
say that the grafting is spontaneous/ 

17 October 

1 Las Casas gives a long explanation of 
die construction and use of these hamacas, 
'hammocks*, in LCH, pp. 150-1. 

2 chimeneas. This can mean 'fireplaces* or 
'chimneys'. Either appears possible, but 
Las Casas, at least, talces it to mean the 
latter, explaining in a marginal note that 
Columbus is wrong: 'These chimneys 
are not for smoke; they are little crown- 
ing pieces (coronillas) on the roofs of the 
Indians* straw houses . . . though they 
do leave a slight opening for smoke to get 
out through the roof (DK, p. 93). 

3 A Spanish coin. 

4 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 95) translate 
this as 'the weather very dirty'. 

5 el era poco. A word is missing after el 
(DK, p. 94). It was probably viento, 
'wind , though Dunn and Kelley suggest 
n'empo, 'time . 

ig October 

i He says simply en la nao, 'in the ship', 
his habitual way of alluding to the Santa 
Maria, as distinct from the two caravelas. 
The usage is similar to that of a nine- 
teenth-century seafarer talking of 'a ship' 
as opposed to 'a barque', though the 
technical basis for the distinction is, of 
course, different. 

zy otro. Dunn and Kelley (p, 97 n.) 
suggest that otro (masculine) refers to 
restinga, *reef (normally feminine, but 
used earlier in the sentence with the 

masculine article ), rather than to isleo, 
'islet* (masculine); i.e., that there was 
another reef, rather than another islet. 
This seems logical. Morison's version is 
ambiguous (1963, p. 75), though he is 
probably thinking along the same lines. 

3 The identity of Isabela is disputed. The 
name appears to refer to Crooked Island 
and Fortune Island jointly, and possibly 
also to the other island in the group, 
Acklins. See DK, p. 99 n. 

4 al gueste. Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 99 
n.) suggest that this is an error for al 
sueste, 'southeast*. 

5 It means 'Cape Beautiful'; probably the 
southern tip of Fortune Island. 

20 October 

1 The southwestern point of Crooked 
Island, opposite the northern point of 
Fortune Island. 

2 An obscure passage. See DK, p. 103 n, 
and Morison, 1963, p. 77, for somewhat 
different versions. 

21 October 

1 Probably an iguana. 

2 FCH, Vol. i, p. 177, says that they were 
amazed by the beast's ugliness and hos- 
tility, but that they later came to look on 
its soft, white flesn as a delicacy. He also 
says that the Indians call it Giovanna, the 
Italian form of Joanna. 

3 Columbus was wrong about the aloe 
plant, to which he refers frequently later. 
He had read in Marco Polo that lignum 
aloe, a kind of wood, was common in the 
orient, and confused it with the medici- 
nal aloes from which a purgative was 
produced. The plant he found in the 
Indies was almost certainly the agave, 
which has similar spiky leaves. See 
Morison, 1963, p. 78 n. 

4 Cuba. 

5 marcantes. Dunn and Kelley (p. 109) 
interpret this as marchantes and translate 
'traders'. I prefer Morison's interpreta- 
tion, mareantes. 

6 Santo Domingo. 

24 October 

i An obscure sentence: Y asi naveguefasta 
el dia al guesudueste y amaneciendo . . . 
[lacuna] calmo el viento y llovio y asi casse 
toda la noche. Dunn and Kelley, p. 113, 
translate:'. . . and at dawn the wind died 
down and it rained, and it continued in 
this way almost all night.' This seems to 



make nonsense of the time sequence. The 
word casse is odd, the normal form being 
easi. A verb may have been omitted. 
2 The entry ends with 'etc.', which sug- 
gests that Las Casas may have omitted 
some navigational details. 

25 October 

i Again the entry ends with 'etc.' 

26 October 

i I have omitted the words estas son las 
canoas (DK, p. 114), 'these are canoes', 
assuming that this is a comment by Las 

27 October 

i The name means 'Sandy Islands'. They 
are now the Ragged Islands. 

28 October 

1 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 117 n.) state, 
with no convincing evidence, that 
Columbus's fathom was equal to the aune 
of Provins and measured 2.7 English 
feet. While it may have been less than the 
English 6-foot fathom, the mere 
etymology of the word would suggest 
that it was longer than they argue: it is 
based on the reach of a man's out- 
stretched arms (braza is a plural, 'arms', 
turned into a singular). 

2 The content of this sentence is posi- 
tioned here in LCH, p. 155, as part of the 
same sentence as the preceding and fol- 
lowing words in my translation. In DK 
Las Casas appears to add it as an after- 
thought in trie last sentence of the 29 
October entry. I think he probably 
omitted it in transcribing the 28 October 
entry, and included it in the next entry 
after realizing the omission. 

3 verdolagas y bledos. Purslane is a medici- 
nal and salad plant. I am less sure of the 
exact meaning of bledos. The word is 
derived from the Latin blitum, which is a 
genus of widespread, generally weedy 
plants with spinach-likeleaves, including 
the Peruvian quinoa, Good King Henry 
and orache. As Columbus tends to men- 
tion only usable resources, he is probably 
referring to an edible plant. 

4 This appears to be where Columbus 
himself oegins to use the word canoas, 
'canoes'. In the next sentence, possibly 
realizing that this may be obscure, he 
gives a paraphrase for clarity. 

5 Now Bahia Bariay. 

29 October 

1 It means 'Moon River'. Now Rio 

2 Puerto Gibara. Mares means 'seas'. 

30 October 

1 'Palm trees Cape'. Now Punta Uvero. 

2 LCH, p. 157, comments extensively on 
the gullibility and self-deception of men. 

3 Las Casas (DK, p. 124) hints that the 
text from which he transcribed this could 
be corrupt. 

2 November 

1 FCH, Vol. I, p. 181, says that this Indian 
had paddled out to the ships in a canoe. 

2 Morison's explanation of this mistake 
(commented on by Las Casas in the 
margin) is that Columbus simply mis- 
took another star for the Pole Star 
(Morison, 1963, p. 87 n.). 

3 November 

i The text continues: aue son hamacas, 
'which are hammocks'. It is not clear 
whether this is Columbus or Las Casas; 
probably the latter. 

4 November 

1 Las Casas inserts (DK, p. 130): 
'apparently from samples he had brought 
from Castile'. 

2 lev, possibly 'law*. 

3 The manuscript has mames t probably a 
copyist's error. The allusion is to cassava. 

5 November 

1 albridas. See my note to the entry for 25 

2 Columbus sets great store by the 
commercial potential of this so-called 
mastic tree (almaciga), which he thought 
was the same as the commercial variety 
he had seen in Chios. It was, in fact, the 
gumbo-limbo tree, Bursera simaruba, 

3 See my note to the 21 October entry. 

6 November 

1 FCH, Vol. i, p. 183. His Italian word is 
duchi; LCH calls them duhos. 

2 FCH, Vol. I, p. 183. 

3 This is the earliest allusion by a Euro- 
pean to tobacco, to which some 
Spaniards soon became addicted. Las 



Casas, writing only a few decades later, 
sounds superior and mystified in his 
description of the practice: '. . . these are 
dried herbs wrapped in a certain leaf, also 
dried, like the mosquetes [this normally 
means 'musket', but here is probably 
some sort of firework] the boys make at 
the Feast of the Holy Spirit. They set 
fire to one end and suck and inhale the 
smoke into their body. This soothes their 
flesh and almost intoxicates them, and 
apparently prevents them from feeling 
weary. Tnese mosquetes, or whatever we 
may call them, are called tabacos. I have 
known Spaniards in this island of 
Espanola who grew habituated to them, 
and when criticized for this vice 
answered that it was beyond their power 
to give them up. I do not know what 
pleasure or benefit they found in them' 
(LCH, p. 162). 

This is restrained by comparison with 
Benzene's attack a few decades later: 'In 
this island, as in certain other areas of 
these new countries, there are certain 
small shrubs like canes which produce a 
leaf like a walnut leaf, but rather larger. It 
is greatly valued by the people of the 
country . . . and much prized by the 
slaves transported from Africa by the 
Spaniards. When the leaves are mature 
they are gathered and hung in bunches 
over a fire until they are thoroughly dry, 
and when the people want to use them 
they take a leai of their corn and roll up 
one of these other leaves inside it like a 
tube, set fire to one end of it, and with the 
other end in their mouth they suck in 
their breath so that the smoke enters their 
mouth, their throat and their head. They 
suck in all they can, and take pleasure in 
it, filling themselves with this bitter 
smoke to the extent of losing their wits. 
Some of them inhale so much that they 
fall down as if dead, and remain stupefied 
for most of the day or night; others are 
content to take in only enough to make 
their head spin. Consider what a foul and 
pestiferous poison of the Devil this is! It 
nas often happened to me that, while 
travelling in Guatemala or Nicaragua, I 
have gone into the house of an Indian 
who had been inhaling this herb, which 
in the language of Mexico is called 
tobacco, and suddenly smelling the foul 
stench of this truly oiabolical and stink- 
ing smoke I have been forced to run out of 
the house and go elsewhere.' (Benzone, 

Historia del Nuovo Mondo, 1572, fols 


4 The Journal says nothing of the next 5 
days. Las Casas (DK, p. 140) adds the 
comment: 'He intended to sail on the 
Thursday, but the wind was wrong and 
he could not leave until 12 November.' 
LCH, p. 163, repeats this, and goes on to 
bemoan, at great length, Columbus's 
attitude to the Indians. FCH, too, is silent 
about these 5 days. Possibly Columbus 
spent them in careening the Finta and the 

12 November 

1 Probably Great Inagua island. 

2 I have moved this sentence forward 
from the end of the entry, where it is 
introduced by Las Casas with the phrase 
dize tambien arriba que . . ., 'he also says 
above that . . .' (DK, p. 148). 

3 'Sun River'. 

4 Columbus's obsession with mastic 
may have been due to Genoese domina- 
tion of the mastic trade based on Chios. 
Jourdain Cathala de Severac tells us in his 
Mirabilia Descripta (ed. Henri Cordier, 
Paris, 1925), *I saw an island called Chio 
where the mastic tree grows in great 
quantity. If the trees are planted else- 
where they will not produce mastic, 
which is the gum of a most noble tree. 
A powerful Genoese called Martin 
Zacharie held that island; he killed or 
took prisoner over ten thousand Turks* 
(p. 97). He goes on to say that the annual 
crop was more than 150,000 pounds in 
weight, and that the Mediterranean 
mastic trade in the fourteenth century 
was controlled by the Genoese (pp. 98 n., 
99 n.). 

5 siete cabezas de mugeres, literally 'seven 
head of women* (DK, p. 146). 

6 The Las Casas text reads los nuestros, 
which can mean either 'our men' or 'our 
people* (DK, p. 146). In LCH, p. 164, Las 
Casas changes this to las nuestras, 'our 

7 LCH, p. 1 66: 'According to what I have 
gathered about his whole voyage down 
the coast of Cuba and back again, and 
from the original maps drawn by the 
Admiral himself, which are in my pos- 
session, this is the cape which we now 
call Cape Maici, 3 leagues from Baracoa, 
which the Admiral nimself called the 
river or harbour of Mares*. 



jj November 

1 Vigneras suggests that this was pos- 
sibly the entrance to Nipe* Bay. 

2 para ponerse al rigor del viento (DK, p. 
150). Dunn and Kelley, accepting an 
assertion by Julio Guillen Tato (La parla 
marinera en el diario del primer viaje de 
Cristobal Colon, Madrid, 1951), translate 
* where he could shelter himself from the 
force of the wind* (DK, p. 151 n.). This is 
the direct opposite of the normal mean- 
ing of the phrase, and Columbus could 
not shelter in a settlement; he needed a 

14 November 

1 This is a compromise translation of el 
viento . . . le escaseava (DK, p. 150). Dunn 
and Kelley, following Guillen Tato, 
translate 'the wind was against them'. 
Morispn, Jane and Thacher interpret it as 
*the wind was falling off, which is closer 
to the normal meaning of escasear. The 
wind is said to be initially in the north, 
which would be a fine beam wind for 
ships sailing E, but at some point in the 
night it veered NE and Columbus had to 
head s by E, and at sunrise he decided to 
head s. Certainly on the I3th and by the 
time he sighted land on the I4th the winds 
were heavy. 

2 Columbus wrote more about his 
reasons; Las Casas (DK, p. 150) cuts him 
short and mentions 'other inconvenien- 
ces which he includes here'. 

3 *Sea of Our Lady'. Now Tanamo Bay. 

4 Las Casas has probably excised a pas- 
sage of description here (DK, p. 154), 
replacing it with: 'He says so many and 
such remarkable things about the beauty 
and fertility and loftiness of these islands 
which he found in this harbour that he 
tells the King and Queen . . .' 

15 November 

1 More abbreviation by Las Casas (DK, 
p. 154): 'and he says wonderful things 
about them'. 

2 Columbus's phrase is y todo basa (DK, p. 
154); it is followed by an explanation, 
possibly his own, possibly inserted for 
laymen by Las Casas: *which means that 
the bottom is sand, with no rocks, some- 
thing which sailors greatly desire because 
the rocks cut their anchor cables*. 

16 November 

i Las Casas adds the comment: 'and he 

was right' (DK, p. 156). 

2 cala, explained (possibly by Columbus, 
but more likely by Las Casas) as 'a 
narrow entrance through which the sea 
enters the land* (DK, p. 156). 

3 sala. Morison, 1963, p. 06, translates it, 
unjustifiably, as 'dry dock'. 

4 This explanation could be an addition 
by Las Casas. 

5 DK has 'like a tasp or taxo\ p. 156. 
Probably an italianism; the Italian for 
'badger' is tasso, the Spanish being tejon. 
See Las Casas 's marginal note, referred to 
in my n. 3 to the next entry. 

17 November 

1 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 158) is 
ambiguous, and certainly contains some 
words added by Las Casas: hallo nuezes 
grandes delas de yndia creo que dize. This 
could mean 'he found large nuts, of the 
kind which grow in India; I think it says', 
or 'large nuts; I think he means the kind 
which grow in India*. 

2 ratones. Normally this means *mice', 
but it is here better interpreted as an 
augmentative form of rata, i.e., *big rat'. 

3 A marginal note by Las Casas (DK, p. 
158): They must have been hutias.' He 
gives a different name in LCH, p. 168: 
These were guaminiquinajes . . . little 
animals like clogs, very good to eat'; 
earlier (LCH, p. 162) he has compared 
their flesh favourably with hare and 

18 November 

i Dunn and Kelley explain in a note (p. 
161) that this is an allusion to a method of 
specifying time, and specifically the tide 
time for a particular port on the first day 
of the new moon, by viewing the com- 
pass rose as a kind ot 24-hour clock face, 
sw by s representing 14:15; they confirm 
that this was the time of high tide in the 
Huelva-Palos area. 

20 November 

i In DK the sentence ends with 'etc.', 
which may indicate that Las Casas is 

21 November 

i Las Casas inserts (DK, p. 162): 'and he 
was right, for to believe the quadrant was 
working properly these islands would 
have to be on a latitude of [. . .] degrees. 
If this were true it would put him very 
close to Florida, and on the same latitude, 
but where then are these islands which 
lay around him?' Dunn and Kelley 



punctuate differently (DK, p. 163). 
2 Las Casas's comments continue (DK, p. 
163): 'Obviously if he were off the coast 
of Florida it would be cold, not hot, and 
it is manifest that nowhere in the world is 
it hot on a latitude of 42 degrees unless by 
some accidental cause hitherto unknown 
to me.' The allusions to Florida, cer- 
tainly, are by Las Casas. 

22 November 

1 anduvo . . . la buelta de la tierra. Dunn 
and Kelley, using the explanation of the 
phrase given by Guillen Tato, translate 
this as 'went ... on a course parallel to 
the land' (see DK, p. 165 n.). Morison, 
1963, p. 100, translates 'toward the land*. 
The Diccionario maritimo espanol (p. 563) 
makes the point crystal clear: ( Ir de la 
vuelta defuera, de la de la tierra, o tomar o 
llevar la una o la otra, "navegar o ponerse 
a navegar en una de estas dos direc- 

24 November 

1 Cayo Moa Grande. 

2 Probably Puerto Cayo Moa. 

3 aues su travesia desta costa. Dunn and 
Kelley (DK, p. 168) translate 'which is 
perpendicular to*. Travesia means 

voyage', 'passage', but also, in modern 
Spanish, 'cross-street'. 

26 November 

1 'Cape of the Peak'. Now Punta 

2 'Bell Cape'. Now Punta Plata or Punta 

27 November 

1 a la corda y temporejar. The Diccionario 
maritimo espanol suggests that while these 
may sometimes be synonymous, they 
are not always so: 'estar a la cuerda: vease 
estar a la capa 1 (p. 196); 'capa: ... la 
disposition de la embarcaci6n que 
hallandose en el mar ... no anda o no 
navega, y esta* poco menos que parada* 
(p. 140); 'temporejar. aguantarse a la capa 
en un temporal . . . mantenerse de vuelta 
en vuelta en cualesquiera otras circun- 
stancias' (p. 515). 

2 El Yunque. 

3 azagayas, a berber word familiar to 
fifteentn-century Spaniards. It seems 
wisest to translate with the cognate 
word, rather than 'javelins' (DK, p. 179) 
or 'darts' (Morison, 1963, p. 104). 

4 Baracoa Harbour. 

5 The rest of this paragraph and the 
whole of the next are in the first person in 
FCH, Vol. i, pp. 191-2. 

6 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 182) reads no 
bastara mill lenguas, 'a thousand tongues 
would (possibly will) not suffice'. 
Fernando s source must have read no 
bastara mi lengua, 'my tongue would 
(possibly will) not suffice'. Both readings 
are ambiguous with regard to tense 
because early written Spanish does not 
indicate stress. 

7 The Justa was a small, multi-oared 
vessel Hke a galley. A medieval Spanish 
ballad preserved into the twentieth cen- 
tury by the Sephardic Jews of Tetuan, 
Morocco, includes a sailor singing a song 
in which he asks for deliverance from 
storms, rocks and lasjustas de los moros, 
que andaban a saltear, 'the fustas of the 
Moors, which go about to seize ships' 
(R. Wright, Spanish Ballads, Warminster, 
1987, pp. 32-3)- 

29 November 

1 The verb poblar is common in docu- 
ments relating to the Spanish recpnquest 
of lands held by the Moors. It implies, 
essentially, an influx of people, but also 
the cultivation of the land which that was 
aimed to achieve. 

2 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 1 88): 'This wax was brought 
there from Yucatan, which makes me 
think that this land was Cuba.' 

i December 

1 Las Casas (DK, p. 190) continues: 
'which I believe he called Puerto Santo'. 
This may be another allusion to illegible 
handwriting. Fernando states explicitly 
in his account of events of 27 November 
that his father did so name the harbour 
(FCH, Vol. i, p. 191). 

2 December 

i Las Casas (DK, p. 190) ends the sen- 
tence with 'etc.', which again suggests 
that he may have omitted something. 

3 December 

i Dunn and Kelley (p. 193 n.) suggest 
that a paso was 5 Roman feet, and point 
out that in the entry for 9 December 
i,ooopasos are said to equal one-quarter 
of a league. 



2 The explanation could be an addition 
by Las Casas. 

3 Dunn and Kelley (p. 195) translate 
colmenar as 'beehive'; Morison, 1963 
(p. 109) as 'apiary*. In standard Spanish 
nowadays colmenar is the place where the 
hives are kept; the hive itself is colmena. In 
various localities in Huelva, Granada and 
Almeria the traditional hive is called 
colmena when it has a colony of bees in it, 
and corcho or bazo when empty, which 
makes me wonder whether Columbus 
could be referring here to a wild bees' 
nest. See Atlas Hnguistico y etnografico de 
Andalucia, Vol. n, Map 627. 

4 creencia. It could perhaps means 

5 Interpretations of this have varied, 
some translators taking it to mean that 
the interior of the house was partitioned, 
others seeing it as a description of a 
segmented altar inside the house (see DK, 
p. 197 n.) 

4 December 

1 'Cape Pretty*. Now Punta del Fraile. 

2 The Windward Passage. 

3 'Passage* is forpaso. The word has also 
been read as pozo, 'well* and poso, 
'stopping place'. Dunn and Kelley read 
pozo, suggest that this is an error forposo 
and translate 'a good stopping place for 
[ships coming from] the east-northeast' 
(p. 199 n.). 

5 December 

1 DK, p. 199: anduvo a la corda. Dunn and 
Kelley translate it as 'stood off and on'. 
See my n. to the 27 November entry. 

2 Las Casas adds in the margin (DK, p. 
198): 'This must be Maysi Point, the 
easternmost point of Cuba.' This is re- 
peated in LCH, p. 176. Fernando, how- 
ever, says that Columbus called the point 
Alpha and Omega (but see my next n.) 

3 Another note in the margin by Las 
Casas (DK, p. 200): *It appears that the 
Admiral must have called Cuba Juana.' 
LCH, p. 176: 'When he left the eastern- 
most point or cape of Cuba, he called it 
Alpha and Omega, meaning "beginning 
and end", because he thought it was the 
limit of terra jirma, going east; he con- 
sidered the beginning to be Cape St 
Vincent in Portugal . . . He wrote this in 
a letter to the King and Queen from 
Espanola. ' 

6 December 

1 'St Mary's Harbour'. Columbus 
changed the name to Puerto de San 
Nicolas; it is now Port Saint Nicolas. 

2 'Cape of the Star'. Now Cape Saint 

3 'Elephant Cape'. Now either Grande 
Pointe or Pointe Palmiette. 

4 The meaning of this is a mystery. Now 
Pointe Jean Rabel. 

5 'Turtle Island'. Now the He de la 

6 A gap in the manuscript. Dunn and 
Kelley (DK, p. 193 n.) suggest passada, a 
unit of length equal to 5 Roman feet. This 
seems unlikely, given the great depth 
of the water. Morison, 1963 (p. 113 n.), 
comments from his own investigations 
that the 4O-fathom line is between 300 
and 700 yards from the shore at this 

7 hondable, literally 'soundable'. Dic- 
cionario maritime espanol (DME), Madrid, 
1 83 1 , p. 3 1 7: 'It is applied to the coast . . . 
where one can find bottom, but with 
sufficient depth of water for sailing.' 

7 December 

1 The Las Casas text continues: 'which 
forms the careenage*. This is presumably 
inserted by Las Casas from his own 

2 angla. Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 209 n.) 
interpret this as 'cape', as does Morison, 
J 9<53 (p. 114). In view of the succeeding 
paragraph 'bay' makes better sense. 

3 The manuscript reads '34', which is too 
many. Navarrete suggests '3 or 4*; Dunn 
and Kelley say this is too few, but 
Morison says it is about right. 

4 Morison, 1963 (p. 114 n.), says that 
there is now no such rock, but also 
mentions that certain eighteenth-century 
maps mark it. 

5 'Conception Harbour'. Now Mous- 
tique Bay. 

8 December 

i See Morison, 1963, p. 115 n. i. 

9 December 

i It means 'Spanish island'; not, as is 
sometimes thought, 'little Spain'. 

10 December 

i las anclas estavan macho a tierra y venia 
sobre ella el viento; a perplexing passage. 
To attempt to lie with the anchors 



between the ship and the coast in an 
onshore wind would be nonsense. It may 
mean that the bow and stern anchors, 
instead of being out to sea close to the 
perpendicular line from the shore, were 
closer to a stem-to-stern line through the 
ship, so that the force of the wind exerted 
a twisting action on them and caused 
them to lose their hold and drag. 

11 December 

1 LCH, p. 1 80: 'Caritaba or Caribana 9 . 

2 The list in the original reads: albures 
salmones pijotas gallos pampanos lisas cor- 
vinos camarones (DK, p. 216). The debat- 
able one is lisas. The dictionary defini- 
tions of lisa give the Latin name Cobitis 
taenia, which is a freshwater fish, the 
spined loach, but the Atlas linguistico y 
etnografico de Andalucia (Vol. iv, Maps 
1 1 06, 1107) reveals that lisa was given by 
informants in various Andalusian ports, 
including those of the Huelva coast, as 
the name of different kinds of mullet. See 
also Maps mi, 1112 of the same work 
for corvina and pampano. 

12 December 

1 The Las Casas text (DK, pp. 218-20) 
continues: 'which is their caravel in 
which they sail' - possibly an insertion by 
Las Casas. It is unlikely that Columbus 
would so misuse a precise nautical term. 

2 This detail is from LCH, p. 181. 

3 This is ambiguous in DK, and could 
possibly mean the canoe', but is more 
explicit in LCH, p. 181. 

23 December 

1 LCH, p. 182. DK, p. 222 reads: 'bread 
made from niamas, which are roots like 
big radishes; they sow them and they 
grow. They plant them all over these 
lands as their staple diet; they make them 
into bread and boil and roast them. They 
taste like chestnuts; anyone eating them 
would not take them for anything else. ' 
This is probably an editorial insertion by 
Las Casas, drawn from his wider experi- 

2 As Morison points out ('The Route of 
Columbus Along the North Coast of 
Haiti and the Site of Navidad', Trans- 
actions of the American Philosophical 
Society, Vol. xxxi, 1940), p. 249) this is a 
cross mistake, as Moustique Bay lies on 
latitude 19 55 '. He suggests that Colum- 
bus had mistaken the star Er Rai for the 

Pole Star. See also American Neptune, i 
(1941), pp. 20-4. 

14 December 

1 'Cape Leg'. Possibly Great Man Point. 

2 'Lance-thrust Point'. Possibly Bird 

3 The bearing is from LCH, p. 183. The 
Journal (DK, p. 226) has nordeste, 'NE*. 

1$ December 

i The modern Trois Rivieres (Morison, 

'The Route of Columbus', p. 250 

16 December 

1 Probably on the site of modern Port 
de Paix (Morison, *The Route of 
Columbus', p. 251). 

2 Previously 9. 

3 LCH, p. 184, includes the comment 
from Las Casas, 'a somewhat irreconcil- 
able combination, to be coming from 
Heaven and to be going about in search 
of gold!' 

4 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 233) translate 
alguazil as 'bailiff. 

5 LCH, p. 184, adds the comment, 'He 
was right about the fineness of the 
country, but not about the cold. It is 
fresh, but not troublesomely so; it 
seemed colder to him being on the sea, 
and with the rain and wind. ' 

6 Probably cassava. 

7 pan, mistranslated by Dunn and Kelley 
as 'bread'. Tierras de pan llevar is a set 

fhrase in rural Spain for cereal land. 
LCH (pp. 1 84-5) adds a long and biting 
passage: 'We may note here that the 
Indians' natural gentleness, simplicity, 
kindness and humility, their nakedness 
and lack of weapons, enabled the 
Spaniards to despise them and to subject 
them to the bitter work which they were 
later made to do; that was the reason for 
the Spaniards' savage hunger to oppress 
them and consume them as they did.* 

1 7 December 

i I have omitted the phrase que llamavan 
cacique, 'whom they called cacique', 
which is probably an explanation by Las 
Casas. The phrase does not occur in LCH, 
p. 185, and there is an explicit statement 
in the DK entry for 18 December (p. 244) 
that that was when Columbus was told 
this word. I have therefore translated the 



other cases of cacique in the 17 December 
entry simply as 'leader'. 

2 LCH, p. 185. 

3 LCH, p. 1 86, adds, 'surely this Baneque 
[sic] must have been the mainland. ' 

18 December 

1 DK has cacique; LCH has rey, 'king'. See 
my n. 1 to 17 December, and nn. 4, 6, 

2 The Feast of the Annunciation was 
called this in popular usage because the 
hymns to the Virgin began with the 
word *O'. 

3 The ensuing passage is quoted verba- 
tim from the onginalby Fernando (FCH, 
Vol. I, pp. 198-200). 

4 There is no counterpart to this sentence 
in the Las Casas text, but see n. 6, below. 

5 LCH, p. 1 86: 'I, who am writing this, 
have seen and handled it. ' FCH, Vol. i, 
p. 200, describes the medallion as una 
medaglia d'oro del peso di auattro ducati\ 
excelente is in DK (p. 242) and presumably 
in the original, since Las Casas explains it 
in the margin: 'This excelente was a coin 
worth two castellanos.' Fernando has 
Italianized it. Another variant in this 
sentence is that the Journal has unas 
cuentas mias, 'some beads of mine', in- 
stead of FCH'S un mio portalettere, 'a port- 
folio of mine*. Cuentas in Spanish can 
mean both 'beads' and 'accounts*. The 
FCH version may therefore have mis- 
translated the phrase in the conversion 
into Italian. 

6 DK (p. 244) here states that 'the 
Admiral learned there that the king was 
called cacique in his own language. * 

ig December 

1 'Two Brothers'. Probably two hillocks 
west of Acul Bay. 

2 'Cape of Towers'. Now Cap au 

3 Either Marigot Head or Limbe Island. 

4 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 246): 'He has not mentioned the 
Dos Hermanos or the Cabo de Torres 
before. 1 

5 'Cape High and Low'. Now Pointe 

6 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 249) translate 
this as 'taller than any other'. This is not 
justified by the text. 

7 Cape Haitien, or specifically the Morne 
du Cap, the mountain range on the Cape 

(Morison, The Route of Columbus', p. 

20 December 

1 Acul Bay. 

2 The Las Casas text has canal instead of 
the normal canal, which leads Las Casas 
to comment in the margin: 'I think he 
means Canaveral (cane-brake).' 

21 December 

1 There is a gap in the text (DK, p. 253). 

2 A doubtfuftranslation vfgonza avellan- 
ada, based on Manuel Alvar (ed.), Diario 
del descubrimiento, Gran Canaria, 1976, 
Vol. n, p. 163. 

3 LCH, p. 189. 

4 This sentence may be an insertion by 
Las Casas. It is not in LCH. 

22 December 

1 LCH, pp. IQO-I. 

2 LCH, p. 191. 

3 LCH, p. 191 : 'These must have been the 
pepper which they call aji. * 

23 December 

1 'Holy Point'. Now Pointe Picolet. Las 
Casas notes in the margin (DK, p, 270): 
'He has not mentioned this Punta Santa 
before. ' 

2 Explained by Las Casas in the margin 
(DK, p. 270): 'Nitayno meant die most 
notable lord and grandee of the kingdom 
after the king.' 

24 December 

1 LCH, p. 193: 'The Indians were quite 
right in saying that the province of Cibao 
was rich in gold; they were saying more 
than they knew, for there was more gold 
there than they could have seen or heard 
of. They had no gold-mining industry, 
so they never knew or could have known 
how much there was, which became a 
matter of amazement later. The distance 
to Cibao was not great, only about 30 
leagues, but the Indians were not used to 
going far from their homeland, and 
might well be afraid of that distance and 
say that it was a long way . ' 

2 This can mean either 'the Friend' or 
'the Mistress'. Now the fie des Rats. 

3 con el tiro de una piedra, possibly 'a 
cannonball shot', though this would 
conflict with the reference soon after- 
wards to the length of the reef. Dunn and 
Kelley (p. 275) read con el of de unapiedra 



and translate 'at the sight of a stone'. 

4 Dunn and Kelley (p. 275) mistranslate 
this as 'pass from the western to the 
eastern side'. 

5 Port des Francois. 

25 December 

1 The ensuing description is taken from 
the first-person original as translated by 
Fernando (FCH, pp. 202-5). The version 
in the Journal differs only minimally 
from it. 

2 DK, pp. 276-8, addition: 'She groun- 
ded so gently that it was hardly notice- 

3 Las Casas (DK, p. 278) adds estava ya la 
nao de traves, *the ship was now beam-on 
to the sea*. 

4 Las Casas (DK, p. 178) adds 'towards 
the beam sea, not mat the swell was very 
great. 1 

5 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 278), 
obviously garbled at this point, replaces 
the last eight words with y no la nao, 
literally 'and not the ship'. Dunn and 
Kelley (p. 279) translate 'the planking 
opened up, but not the ship/ 

6 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 278) reads 
aun quedava, 'was left*. 

26 December 

1 This is from LCH, p. 196. Las Casas 
(DK, p. 282) has chuq chuque. A normal 
scribal abbreviation of the period is to 
omit the ue of the combination que, 
putting an omission mark above. 
Columbus or the later scribe probably 
forgot the omission mark on chuq. 

2 LCH, p. 196: The reason was that the 
Indians of this island, and of all the 
Indies, are very given to dancing, which 
they do a great deal, and to assist their 
voices and songs as they dance . . . they 
had bells, most cleverly made of wood 
with a few pebbles inside, which made a 
noise, but a dull and harsh one. When 
they saw the bells so big and shiny and 
clear sounding they were taken with 
them more than witn anything else. ' 

3 LCH, p. 196: *. . . de los aue habian 
llevado la ropa de la nao a tierra\ This could 
possibly mean 'those who had taken the 
ship's canvas ashore*. DK, p. 282 has 
simply 'a sailor returning from shore'. 

4 LCH, p. 197. This paragraph, or some 
of it, could be an amplification by Las 
Casas based on his own knowledge. 

5 Las Casas comments in the margin: 

'Cibao was a province of the same island 
of Espanola, where there were very rich 
mines.' He amplifies this in LCH, p. 197: 
'When the Admiral heard the name 
Cibao his heart was happy, for he 
thought it was Cipango, the island on his 
map, which he was expecting because of 
what Paolo the physician had told him. 
He did not understand that this place was 
a province of this island, but thought that 
it was an island in itself.' 

6 Mistranslated by Dunn and Kelley 
(DK, p. 285) as 'they rubbed their hands 
. . . they did it.' 

7 espingarda. Either an uncommon or an 
obsolete word, to judge by LCH, p. 197: 
*. . . a lombard and an escopeta [i.e., 
'musket', now 'shotgun*] or espingarda, 
as it was called in those days'. 

8 la vasija, one meaning of which is given 
by the Academy Dictionary as 'collective 
term for the barrels and wine jars in a 
bodega'. Dunn and Kelley (p. 291) trans- 
late it as 'storage jars'. 

27 December 

1 LCH, p. 199. 

2 LCH, p. 199. Las Casas then explains 
Columbus's decision to leave men on the 
island. This description almost certainly 
corresponds to a lost passage of the 
original Journal (a telling piece of evi- 
dence is the phrase vuestrafortaleza, *your 
fort'; evidently addressed to Ferdinand 
and Isabella, which LCH is not), but the 
cumulative style and orderly presenta- 
tion are perhaps more those of Las 
Casas than of Columbus. The allusion to 
the completion of the fort in 10 days is 
hardly something of which Columbus 
would have written on 27 December, so 
Las Casas is doing more here than simply 
turning the first person into the third: 

At this time the Admiral decided to 
leave some men there, for several 
reasons. The first and principal one 
was what he had seen of the joyous- 
ness, freshness and amenity of the 
land, and its richness, manifest in the 
considerable and valuable examples of 
the great quantities of gold there, with 
the consequent possibility of settling 
great numbers of Spaniards and 
Christians with such profit and pros- 

Secondly, in order that while he was 
going to Spain and returning they 



might learn the language and make 
enquiries to find out the secrets of the 
land, its lords and rulers, and the mines 
of gold and other metals, and whether 
there were riches other than what he 
had seen, and especially what he 
believed there to be, namely spices. 

Thirdly, so as to leave a kind of 
token so that people in Castile, hearing 
that some Christians had remained on 
the island of their own accord, would 
not be afraid of the distance, or of the 
perils and hardships of the sea; though 
this was hardly necessary, for merely 
on hearing that there was gold and so 
much of it the men of Spain would not 
be afraid to go to seek it. 

Fourthly, the Santa Maria had been 
lost, and it would have been very 
difficult for everyone to sail home in 
the caravel. 

Fifthly, because of the great desire 
the men all showed to stay there, and 
their pleas to the Admiral, in which 
they said that they wanted to be the 
first settlers there. 

He was greatly encouraged and 
strengthened in his resolve by seeing 
the kindness, humility, gentleness 
and simplicity of all these people, 
particularly the great charitableness, 
humanity and virtue of King Guacana- 
gari, and the remarkable welcome he 
had given them so far, which was 
as great as one could have had in one's 
own parents' home anywhere, and 
the love he had shown them and 
his constant offers to do more for 

With this resolve, then, and to pro- 
vide them with whatever protection 
was possible at that time, ne decided 
that a fort should be built out of the 
planking, timbers and fastenings of the 
Santa Maria, with a moat around, 
which was as strong a defence against 
the Indians of this island as Salses is 
against the French, or stronger. He 
therefore ordered his men to make 
haste, and the King ordered his vassals 
to help, and with almost countless 
people coming to help the Christians 
they worked so hard and so well that in 
around ten days your fort was well 
built, to the extent necessary at that 

He called it Villa de la Navidad 
[Christmas Town], because he arrived 

on Christmas Day, [from now on this 
is certainly Las Casas] although there 
is now no memory of there ever 
haying been a fortress or any other 
building, the trees being as thickly 
grown and tall (and I have seen them 
myself) as if fifty years had passed. 

28 December 

i LCH, pp. 200-1: en una silla, con su 
espaldar, baja, de las que ellos ustban, que son 
muy lindas y bronidas v relucientes, como si 
Juesen de azabaja, que ellos llamaban 'duhos'. 
The imperfect tense in usaban and 
llamaban suggests that at least part of this 
is taken from the original Journal; the 
present tense of son may indicate that the 
comparison with jet has been added from 
Las Casas's own ethnological know- 

29 December 

1 Las Casas adds in the margin: 'These 
were not islands, but provinces of 
Espanola* (DK, p. 294). In LCH, p. 201, he 
expands the comment considerably, 
explaining that Guarionex was a king. 

2 LCH, p. 201: 'which must have been of 
brass or tin*. 

30 December 

1 LCH, p. 201 (as part of a direct quota- 
tion from the original Journal). 

2 Las Casas includes in LCH, p. 202, a 
description of the making of these 
plaques which could conceivably be 
based on the original Journal, but is more 
probably based on his personal observa- 
tion: 'These plaques of gold were not 
cast, nor were they made from many 
grains, for the Indians of this island had 
no melting process. When they found 
particles otgold they beat them oetween 
two stones to spread them out, and the 
large plaques were made by beating out 
large grains or nuggets which they round 
in the rivers.* 

3 This plant, obviously different from 
what we now think of as rhubarb, was 
thought by Columbus to be an oriental 
plant used in medicine. His interest in it 
was probably aroused by Marco Polo; in 
the margin alongside the point where 
Polo mentions the plant Columbus 
wrote Reubarbarum, just as he wrote 
aurum, argentum, cinamomurn* etc. along- 
side Polo's other allusions to natural 



wealth (see Raccolta, Part I, Vol. ii, p. 

31 December 

i Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 299) translate 

por saber . . . el transito ae Castillo, a ella 

as 'in order to know its distance from 


i January 

1 LCH, p. 202: 'The Admiral thought the 
pepper called aji from this island a fine 
spice, saying that it is better than the 
pepper and manegueta brought from 
Guinea and Alexandria. ' Manegueta may 
be a kind of pepper, or possibly the fruit 
of the amomo, a plant related to ginger. 
See Alvar, Vol. H, p. 185 n., and 
Morison, 1963, p. 142 n. 

2 January 

1 LCH, p. 204. 

2 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 301) translate 
*a skirmish between the armed men of 
the vessels [and the men remaining 

3 FCH, Vol. i, p. 209. 

4 The ensuing passage has been some- 
what modified in the light of Las Casas's 
fuller account in LCH, pp. 203-4. 

5 LCH, p. 203. 

6 Morison (Admiral, Vol. I, p. 401 n.) 
suggests that the speech which follows 
(taken from LCH, pp. 203-4; not included 
in the Journal) is an invention by Las 
Casas on the theme "be kind to the 
Indians and a good example to them" f . I 
have accepted it as at least fundamentally 
genuine on three grounds: first, it is 
generally free from the rhetorical bom- 
bast which characterizes Las Casas's 
emotional interpolations; secondly, Las 
Casas departs from the content of the 
speech at one point to say how ill 
founded the Admiral's confidence was; 
thirdly and most tellingly, although Las 
Casas is ostensibly reporting the speech 
rather than quoting it, it includes one of 
the cases, quite frequent in the Journal 
but relatively rare in LCH, of a careless 
failure to eradicate the use of the first 
person: tenian por derta opinion que eramos 
enviados de las celestiales virtudes. 

7 This is where Las Casas digresses, 
commenting on the failure of his 
countrymen to fulfil Columbus' s faith in 

3 January 

i Las Casas says in LCH, "p. 205: 'I do not 
know how many he took from this 
island, but I believe he took some, and he 
took 10 or 12 Indians to Castile in all. I 
saw them myself in Seville, though I ... 
do not remember counting them/ 

4 January 

1 * Snake Cape'. Possibly Pointe Jac- 

2 'Mount Christ'. Now Monte Cristi. 

3 FCH, Vol. i, p. 212. This replaces 'etc.' 
in DK, p. 306, after which Las Casas goes 
on to say 'but because the land and the 
area are now well known I am omitting 
it*. Fernando (p. 212) comments on 
Columbus's motives: *The Admiral 
thought it fitting to mention these details 
in order to make known the location of 
the first Christian settlement and posses- 
sion in that western world.' 

5 January 

1 LCH, p. 206: 'I am amazed that he does 
not mention finding salt there, for there 
are excellent salt fields on this island; 
perhaps they were some distance away 
from him.' 

2 'Calf Cape'. Possibly Punta Chica. 

3 Sic. LCH has the same (p. 206). 

4 The Journal has a la quarta del este al 
nordeste. Dunn and Kelley (p. 311) trans- 
late 'to the northeast by east', which 
would normally be al nordeste cuarta del 
este. E by N is usually al este cuarta del 

5 LCH, p. 206: *He would certainly have 
given a good reward to anyone who had 
told him where he really was, for he was 
on the doorstep of the Cibao mines, in 
the middle of the great Real Vega . . .All 
the hills he could see from there were 
Cibao, where the world's riches in gold 
lay and still lie.' 


1 This is contradicted by Las Casas in 
LCH, p. 207: '. . . he had certainly not 
experienced them, for these are the 
wildest, roughest, most stormy and 
violent winds on the face of the earth, 
which sink the' most ships and bring 
devastation to these lands. 

2 LCH, p. 207, 

3 In LCH, p. 208, Las Casas launches into 
a 2-page attack on Pinzon, quoting the 
evidence of the pleitos. 



4 Jamaica. Las Casas comments in the 
margin (DK, p. 314): '. . . and in Jamaica 
a piece of gold was found as big as a great 
AJcalS loaf or a auartal of VaJladofid. I 
saw it myself. Many others of r pound, 
or 2, or 3, or even 8 were found in 

8 January 

1 Morison, 1963, suggests that the sur- 
sueste (SSE) of the text is a mistake for 
sursudueste (ssw). 

2 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 3 16): 'This river is the Yaqui; it is 
very powerful and rich in gold. It may 
well be that the Admiral found gold as he 
claims, the river being then virgin, as 
they say, but I think much of it must have 
been marcasite, which is plentiful there, 
and perhaps the Admiral thought all that 
glistered was gold.' See also LCH, pp. 

3 'River of Gold 1 . Now the Rio Yaque 
del Norte. 

4 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 318): 'It is bigger than any of 
these. * In LCH, p. 210, he expands this: 'I 
say that it is bigger than the Guadalquivir 
at Cantillana, or even Alcala del Rio, for 
I know it well. ' 

5 LCH, p. 210: *He would have wel- 
comed toe news that it was not even 4; 
he was close to the mines of Cibao, not 
4 leagues away/ 

9 January 

1 lesnoraestCy mistranslated by Dunn and 
Kelley (DK, p. 319) as 'north-northeast*. 

2 'Red Point*. Now Puma Rucia. 

3 Dunn and Kelley (DK, p. 321) print 
manegueta with a capital. DK has a small 
m, a fact of no significance in itself, but 
compare LCH, p. 210: '. . . on the coast 
of Guinea, where they gather the 
manegueta 9 . The mermaids were prob- 
ably manatees. 

10 January 

1 *Grace River'. Probably now Puerto 
Blanco. Las Casas tells us in the margin 
(DK, p. 320): 'This is the river called Rio 
de Martin Alonso Pinzon, five leagues 
from Puerto dc Plata.* 

2 The text has bmma, which means 
'mist*. This would hardly justify the next 
sentence, and is probably a mistake for 
broma, 'shipworm, teredo*. 

11 January 

1 'Fair Meadow*. Now Punta Patilla. 

2 'Silver Mountain*. Las Casas com- 
ments in the margin (DK, p. 322): 'He 
called it Monte de Plata because it is very 
high and the summit is always covered 
in mist which makes it look white or 
silvery; at the foot of it is the harbour, 
which he named after the mountain. * The 
harbour is still Puerto de Plata. 

3 'Cape Angel*. Either Punta Payne or 
Punta Sosua. 

4 LCH, p. 211: '4 fathoms, and it is 
horseshoe-shaped* . 

5 *Iron Point*. Now Punta Macoris, 

6 'Dry Point*. Now Punta Cabarete. 

7 'Round Cape*. Now Cabo de la Roca. 

8 'French Cape*. The name survives. 

9 'Fair Weather Cape'. Possibly Punta 
del Aguila. 

10 'Sheer*. The name survives; alterna- 
tively, Punta Sabaneta. LCH, p. 211: 
'None of the names of these headlands 
survives today.' 

12 January 

1 dado resguardo al navio. Dunn and 
Kelley (DK, pp. 325-7) translate this as 
'having looked carefully at the ship's 
performance*. See Guillen Tato, p. in: 
resguardo, 'distancia prudential*. 

2 'Cape Father and Son*. Now Cabo 

3 LCH, p. 21 1 : 'Puerto Sancto'. 

4 'Cape of the Lover*. Now Cape 

5 Samana Bay. 

6 Cayo Levantado. 


1 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 328): "This shows that the 
Admiral knew something about astro- 
logy, though these planets appear to 
have been confused by poor copying/ 
Astrology and astronomy were inade- 
quately distinguished at the time. For an 
explanation, see Morison, 1963, p. 152 n. 

2 LCH, p. 212: *It is not charcoal, it is a 
dye made from a certain fruit.' 

3 Las Casas writes in the margin (DK, p. 
328): 'They were not Caribs; there never 
were any on Espanola.' 

4 LCH, p. 212: 'of San Juan'. 

5 LCH, p. 212: 'and he was right; the 
island was a rich source of gold for a time; 
it is not so plentiful now. 

6 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 330) reads al 



2 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 348) reads 
seys leguas por hora, *6 leagues per hour'; 
this is outlandish, and must be a mistake 
for 'miles'. 

6 February 

I LCH, p, 216: NE. 

10 February 

i LCH, p. 217, describes the later life of 
Roldan, 'who subsequently lived many 
years in the city of Santo Domingo in 
Espanola. We used to call him Roldan the 

alambre oaun oro baxo> 'alambre, or a base 
gold'. Alambre now means 'wire', but 
used to be applied to copper or its alloys. 

7 LCH, p. 212. 

8 Journal: que es oro o alambre. 

9 Las Casas comments in the margin 
(DK, p. 330): 'This suanin was not an 
island, I think, but the low grade gold 
which the Indians of Espanola said had a 
smell; they set great value on it and called 

10 A garbled note by Las Casas in the 

margin (DK, p. 332) explains that this r ..<,.*....,,., 

weapon was made from palm wood and piloto\ he was rich, and had many pairs of 

11 ' " ' '- *"- houses which he built or ordered to be 

built in the four streets of the city 
2 A gap in the manuscript. 

14 February 

1 The shrine and monastery of Santa 
Maria de Guadalupe in Extremadura 
was and remains one of the best known 
Spanish centres of the worship of the 

2 Tne Las Casas text (DK, p. 366) con- 
tinues: 'which is a house where Our Lady 
has done and continues to do many great 
miracles'. I have omitted this on the 
assumption that it may be an addition by 
Las Casas. 

3 FCH, Vol. i, p. 221: 'Santa Maria de 

4 LCH, p. 21 8: '. . . for that too is a house 
for which seafarers, especially those of 
the Condado, have a special devotion'. 

5 Dunn and Kelley, p. 367, translate this 
as 'shirtsleeves'. 

6 Dunn and Kelley, p. 367, translate this 
as 'because of their greediness during the 
prosperous time they had in the islands'. 

7 The rest of this entry continues with 
the version in FCH, Vol. i, pp. 222-4, 
which is in the first person singular. 

8 Fernando gives the figure as 1,000 
ducats. Earlier in the Journal (DK, p. 242) 
Las Casas says that an excdente (translated 
into Italian by Fernando as 4 ducats), was 
worth 2 castellanos. 

9 FCH, Vol. i, p. 224, reads v erita, 'truth'; 
the editor suggests aviditd. 

10 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 376) reads: 
andaria a popa, literally 'he must have 
sailed astern . My translation assumes the 
omission of con el viento after andaria. To 
sail astern in such conditions under just a 
forecourse seems not only unseamanlike 
but impossible. 

1 1 This could conceivably mean 'unbent 

calle'd a macana. He explains it more fully 
in LCH, p. 213:'. . . a palm wood sword, 
very hard and heavy, shaped like this: 
[drawing] It is not sharp at the end, but 
rounded, about two fingers wide along 
its length. It is as heavy and hard as iron, 
and will cut through a man's skull to his 
brain even if he is wearing a helmet.' 
ii Las Casas (DK, p. 332) comments 
ruefully: 'The first fight between Indians 
and Christians on the island of Espanola. ' 

I 4 january , . . 

i LCH, p. 214. The word, again, is 
alambre. Las Casas adds: 'I think he means 
copper. ' 

15 January 

1 alambre. 

2 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 340) reads: 
toda la gente, 'all the people'. Las Casas 
comments in the margin: 'By the people 
he must mean the Christians.' LCH, p. 
214: 'the people in the caravels'. 

16 January 

1 'Bay of Arrows'. A point on the north 
shore is still called Punta de las Flechas. 

2 Las Casas writes in the margin (DK, p. 
344): 'I think this Cape of San Theramo 
must be the one now called Cabo del 

18 January 

i The Las Casas text (DK, p. 346) reads un 
pescado que se llama rabiforcado. Pescado 
means 'fish', nowadays in the culinary 
context only. Dunn and Kelley, reason- 
ably, suggest pescador, 'fisher , 'fishing 

22 January 

i The arithmetic does not add up. See 

Morison, 1963, p. 158, 22 January, n, i. 


the gapahigo', though to unbend a major 
sail in such storm conditions would be a 
demanding task. 

15 February 

i FCH, Vol. i, pp. 225-6. 

16 February 

i This entry covers 16 and 17 February. 
Columbus was probably unable to write 
up the Journal on the first day because of 
a combination of heavy weather and 

ip February 

1 This is the Castilian spelling. The 
Portuguese form would be 'Castanheda'. 

2 The 'etc/ is in both DK and LCH. It is 
impossible to tell if it was written by 
Columbus or if it represents an abbrevia- 
tion of the text by Las Casas. 

21 February 

1 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 382) has 
estuvo a la cuerda. Dunn and Kelley trans- 
late 'he jogged off and on'. See, however, 
DME, p. 196, estara la cuerda\ p. 140, capa\ 
p. 515, temporejar. 

2 He means through stress of weather. 

3 LCH, p. 223. 

22 February 

i dioles de lo aue tenia, literally *he gave 
them some of what he had'. Dunn and 
Kelley (p. 385) translate 'he produced for 
them what he had 1 . It may mean simply 
that he showed them the documents. 

27 February 

i FCH, Vol. i, p. 232. 

28 February 
i FCH, Vol. ] 

p. 232. 

j March 

i In modern Spanish patron means 
'owner, boss', and also 'captain of a 
vessel, especially a small one'. Dunn and 
Kelley translate this as 'master*, which 
obscures what is evidently a difference 
from maestn, which I translate as 'master' 
in the following paragraph. This patron is 
presumably of subordinate rank to the 
Portuguese capitdn, whose emissary he 
is. One possibility is that he is not only 
the master of the Portuguese vessel, but 
also its owner, and that the ship was 
chartered by the Crown. Juan Nino was 

both owner and master of the Nina, and 
Juan de la Cosa was owner and master of 
the Santa Maria, though subordinate to 

2 Possibly Bartholomew Dias, the 

3 These are long, straight trumpets of 
Moorish pattern. 

S March 

1 The Castilian form; the Portuguese 
would be 'Noronha*. 

2 The Portuguese form is 'Sacavem'. 

p March 

1 The Portuguese form is Valparaiso'. 

2 LCH, p. 227, continues: '. . . the King 
was speaking cautiously and formally, 
but he must have been raging in his heart 
at losing such an enterprise, which he had 
had in his own grasp; ne must have been 
planning to raise all possible obstacles 
. . . so as to prevent Castile from holding 
on to the Indies. ' 

10 March 

i In LCH, pp. 227-8, Las Casas recounts 
that in a conversation between himself 
and unnamed persons it was said that 'the 
King had a plate of beans brought and put 
on a table beside him, and he told one of 
the Indians to draw or depict all the 
islands in the waters of his homeland 
which the Admiral said he had dis- 
covered. The Indian, with no hesitation, 
laid out the islands of Espanola and Cuba 
and the Lucayos and others which he 
knew. The King looked carefully at what 
he had done, and then, as if by accident, 
disarranged the beans with his hands. A 
while later he asked another Indian to do 
the same ... the Indian readily set out 
the beans to show just the same as the 
other, and added many more islands and 
countries, explaining it all in his own 
language which nobody understood. 
Then the King, realizing tne full extent of 
the discoveries and the riches which he 
now imagined them to hold, could no 
longer conceal the misery within him 
... at losing things of such inestimable 
value.' Las Casas (LCH, p. 228), using 
information from Garcia de Resende's 
Chronicle of King John II of Portugal, also 
says that the King's advisers pressed him 
to let them seize Columbus and kill him, 
and that only the King's fear of God 
saved him. 


n March Appendices 

1 The Spanish form of Portuguese 
'Vilafranca'. Appendix i 

2 The Las Casas text (DK, p. 398) has I $ ee my n> 22 to QI. 4 of the Introduc- 
Llandra, then Allandra. The Portuguese ^ on 


Appendix n 

15 March i This partial payroll was published by 

i Las Casas ends: 'These are the final the Duchess of Berwick and Alba in 
words of the Admiral Don Christopher ^ Uevo3 au t6grafo$ de Cristobal Colon, 
Columbus about his first voyage to the Madrid, 1902, pp. 7-10. The document 
Indies and his discovery of them. Deo j s in Columbus s own handwriting, with 

the exception of the material between 

oblique strokes. 


Select Bibliography 

Alegria, Ricardo E., Cristobal Colon y el 

tesoro it los indios tainos de la Espanola, 

Santo Domingo, Dominican 

Republic, 1980. 
Alvar, Manuel (ed,), Diario del 

descubrimiento, 2 vols, Gran Canaria, 

1976 (Alvar), 
Alvar, Manuel, and others, Atlas 

linmstico y etnogrdfico de Andalucia, 6 

vols, Granada, 1961-73. 
Anzoategui, Ignado B., Los cuatro viajes 

del Almirante y su testamento, 3rd edn, 

Buenos Aires, 1958. 
Benzone, Girolamo, Historic del Nuovo 

Mondo (Venice, 1563), facsimile edn, 

Graz, 1962. 
Berwick and Alba, The Duchess of, 

Nuevos aut6grafos de Cristobal Colon, 

Madrid, 1902. 

Carta: see Salazar, Eugenic de. 
Chapman, Paul HL, Tfte Man Who Led 

Columbus to America, Atlanta, 1973. 
Codex Mendoza, ed. James C, Clarke, 3 

vols, London, 1938. 
Columbus, Christopher, Libro de 

profecias, ed, Francisco Alvarez 

Seisdedos, Madrid, 1984. 
Columbus, Fernando, Historic deltavita 

e deifatti di Cristoforo Colombo, ed. R. 

Caddeo, 2 vols, Milan, 1930 (FCH). 

English translation by Benjamin 

Keen, The Life of the Admiral 

Christopher Columbus by his Son, 

Ferdinand, New Brunswick, 1959. 
Cortesao, Armando, The Nautical Chan 

0/1424, Coimbra, 1954. 

Crawshay, L. R., 'Possible Bearing of a 
Luminous Syllid on the Question of 
the Landfall of Columbus', Natureitf 
(1935), p. 559- 

Diccionario maritimo espanol, Madrid, 


DK: see Dunn, Oliver, and James E. 

Documenti : see Genoa, City of. 

DME: see Diccionario maritimo espanol 

Dunn, Oliver, *Columbus's First 
Landing Place: The Evidence of the 
Journal , Terrae Incognitae 15(19%$), 

Dunn, Oliver, and James E, Kelley.Jr, 

The 'Diario' of Christopher Columbus's 

First Voyage to America, 14)2-1493, 

London and Norman, Oklahoma, 

1989 (DK). 
Edwards, Emily, Painted Walls of Mexico 

from Prehistoric Times until Toaay, 

Austin and London, 1966. 
FCH: see Columbus, Fernando. 
Fonseca, Quirino da, A caravela 

portuguesa, Coimbra, 1934. 
Garcia dePalacio, Diego, Instruction 

nduticapara el buen uso y regimiento de las 

naos, Mexico, 1587. 
Genoa, City of: Cristoforo Colombo: 

Documenti eprovi della sua appartenenza 

aGenova, Bergamo, 1931 (Document!). 

English-Gennan edition, Bergamo, 

Gil, Juan, Colon y su tiempo (Vol. I ofhis 

Mitos y utopfas del descubrimiento), 

Madnd, 1989. 


Select Bibliography 

Gil, Juan (ed.), El Libra de Marco Polo 
anotadopor Cristobal Colon . Version de 
Rodrigo de Santaella, Madrid, 1987. 

Gould, Alice, 'Documentos ineditos 
sobre hidalguia y genealogia de la 
familia Pinzon', Boletin de la Real 
Academia de Historia xci (1927), 

pp. 3 19-775- 

Gould, Alice, 'Nueva lista documentada 
de los tripulantes de Colon en 1492', 
Boletin de la Real Academia de Historia, 
Vols LXXXV, pp. 34-49, H5-59, 353- 

79; LXXXVI, pp. 491-532; LXXXVII, 
pp. 22-60; LXXXVIII, pp. 721-84; XC, 

pp. 532-55; xci, pp. 318-75; xcn, pp. 

776-95; cxvn, pp. 145-88. 
Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe, Nueva 

cronicaybuengobierno, ed. John V. 

Murra and others, 3 vols, Madrid, 

Guillen Tato, Julio, Laparla marinera en el 

diario del primer viaje ae Crist6bal Colon, 

Madrid, 1951. 
Hawkins, Clifford W., The Dhow: An 

Illustrated History of the Dhow and its 

World, Lymington, Hampshire, 1977. 
Ife, Barry W. (ed.), Christopher 

Columbus: Journal of the First Voyage, 

Warminster, 1990. 
Jourdain Cathala de Severac, Mirabilia 

Descripta, ed. Henri Cordier, Paris, 


Kelley, James E. , Jr, 'In the wake of 
Columbus on a portolan chart', in 
Louis de Voysey, Jr and John Parker, 
In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and 
Controversy, Detroit, 1985. 

la Ronciere, Charles de, La Cane de 
ChristopheColomb, Paris, 1924. 

las Casas, Bartolome de, Historia de las 
Indias, in Biblioteca de Autores 
Espanoles, Vol. 95, Madrid, 1957 


LCH: see Las Casas, Bartolome de. 

Livre des merveilles, Bibliotheque 
Nationale, Paris, MS Fr 2810. 

Lollis, Cesare de, and others (eds), 
Raccolta di document! i studipublicati dalla 
R. Commissione Colombianapel quarto 
centenario della scoperta dell 'America, 14 
vols, Rome, 1 892-4 (Raccolta). 

Jane, Cecil, Voyages ofColumbus, 
London, 1930. 

Jos, Emiliano, 'El Libro del Primer Viaje: 
Aleunas ediciones recientes', Revista de 
Indias, Vol. x, 1950, pp. 719-51- 

McElroy, Jfohn W. , The Ocean 

Navigation ofColumbus on his First 

Voyage', American Neptune i (1941), 

pp. 209-40. 
Manera Rodriguez, E. , El buque en la 

armada espanola, Madrid, 1981. 
Manzano Manzano, Juan, Colon y su 

secrete, Madrid, 1976. 
Manzano Manzano, Juan, Cristobal 

Colon: Siete anos decisivos de su vida, 

1485-1492, Madrid, 1964. 
Marco Polo: The Travels of Marco Polo the 

Venetian, ed. JohnMasefield, London 

and New York, 1907 (MP). 
Martinez Hidalgo, Jose Maria, 

Columbus's Ships, ed. Howard I. 

Chapelle,Barre,Mass., 1966. 
Maundevile, Sir John: The Voyages and 

Travels of Sir John Maundevile Kt., ed. 

H. M., London, 1892. 
Medina, Pedro de, The Navigator's 

Universe: The Libro de Cosmographia of 

1538, transl. Ursula Lamb, Chicago, 

Menendez Pidal, Ramon, La lengua de 

Cristobal Colon, Buenos Aires, 1947. 
Milani, Virgil I., The Written Language of 

Christopher Columbus, supplement to 

Forum Italicum, Buffalo, 1973. 
Mollat dujourdin, Michel, and others, 

Les Portulans: Cartes marines du XIIF au 

XVIFsiecle, Fribourg, 1984. English 

edn, Sea Charts of the Early Explorers, 

New York, 1984. 
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Admiral 

of the Ocean Sea: A Life ofChristopher 

Columbus, 2 vols, Boston, Mass., 

1942 (Morison, Admiral). 
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Journals and other 

Documents on the Life and Voyages of 

Christopher Columbus, New York, 

1963 (Morison, 1963). 
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Portuguese 

Voyages to America in the Fifteenth 

Century, Cambridge, Mass., 1940. 
Morison, Samuel Eliot, "The Route of 

Columbus Along the North Coast of 

Haiti and the Site of Navidad', 

Transactions of the American 

Philosophical Society xxxi (1940), 

pp. 239-85 (Morison, "The Route of 

Morison, Samuel Eliot, 'Texts and 

Translations of the Journal of 

Columbus's First Voyage', Hispanic 

American Historical Review xix (1939), 

pp. 235-61. 
Moule, A. C., Christians in China before 

the Year 1550, London, 1930. 
MP: see Marco Polo. 


Select Bibliography 

Ortega, Angel, La Rdbida: historia 
documental critica, 4 vols, Seville, 

Farias, L.-H., Historia universal de las 
exphraciones, Madrid, 1982. 

Perez Embid, Florentine, Los 
descubrimientos en elAtldntico y la 
rivalidad castellano-portuguesa hasta el 
tratadode Tordesillas, Seville, 1948. 

Pleitos: 'Pleitos colombinos', in the Real 
Academia de Historia's Coleccion de 
documentos ineditos relatives al 
descubrimiento, 2nd Series, 25 vols, 
1885-1932, Vols vii and vm( 1892-4). 
New edn by Antonio Muro Orejon 
and others, at least 8 vols, Seville, 


Raccolta: seeLollis, Cesare de. 
Ravenstein, E. G., Martin Behaim: His 

Life and His Globe, London, 1908. 
Richardson, Philip L., and Roger A. 

Goldsmith, 'The Columbus Landfall: 

Voyage Track Corrected for Winds 

and Currents', 

pp. 3-10. 

Rumeu de Armas, Antonio, La Rdbida y 
el descubrimiento de America, Madrid, 

Salazar, Eugenic de, 'Carta escrita al 
licenciado Miranda de Ron, particular 
amigo del autor. En que se pinta un 
navio, y la vida y ejercicios de los 
oficiales y marineros en e*l, y como lo 
pasan los que hacen viajes por el mar', 
in Cartas de Eugenio de Salazar escritas a 
muy particulars amigos suyos, Madrid 
(Sociedad de Bibliofilos Espanoles), 

Sanz, Carlos, Bibliografia general de la 
Carta de Colon, Madrid, 1958. 

Sanz, Carlos, Diario de Colon, Madrid, 

Sanz, Carlos, *E1 mapa del mundp, segiin 
el proceso cartografico de Occidente y 
su influencia en el de Oriente'; and *Un 
mapa del mundo verdaderamente 
importance de la famosa universidad 
de Yale', Boletin de la Real Sociedad 
Geogrdjica en (1966). 

Stevens, Benjamin F. , Columbus: His 
Own Book of Privileges, London, 1893. 

Thacher, John B. , Christopher Columbus: 
His Life, His Work, His Remains t as 
Revealed by Original Printed and 
Manuscript Records, 3 vols, New York, 

Vazquez, T. A. , *Las Casas' Opinions in 
Columbus's Diary', in Topic: ajournal 
of the Liberal Arts, Washington, 1971, 
pp. I45~56. 

Vignaud, Henri, Histoire Critique de la 
grande entreprise de Christophe Colomb, 2 
vols, Paris, 1911. 

Vigneras, L. A. (ed.) The Journal of 
Christopher Columbus, London, 1960. 

Villiers, Alan, The Way of a Ship, 
London, 1954. 

Whipple, A. B. C., The Clipper Ships, 
Amsterdam, 1980. 

Wright, Roger, Spanish Ballads, 
Warminster, 1987. 

Yule, Sir Henry, Cathay and the Way 
Thither, 2nd edn, 4 vols, London 
(Hakluy t Society) ,1913-15. 


Sources of Illustrations 
and Figures 

1 British Library, MS Eg 28 54. 
fok 2V-3. 

2 BibliothSque Nationale, Paris, 
MS Res Ge A 276. 

3 British Library, MS Add 15760. 
4-7 Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 
MS Fr 2810, fois 51, 84, 87 and 107. 

8 British Library, MS Royal 
I9.D. I, fol. 59v. 

9 The larger vessel is from 
Bernhard von Breydenbach, 
Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam, 
Mainz, 1486; the smaller from the 
Estoriador do emperador Vespesiano, 

10-n Diego Garcia de Palacio, 
Instruction ndutica para el buen uso y 
regimiento de las naos, Mexico City, 


12 Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 
MS Port 45. 

13 National Maritime Museum, 
Greenwich, Portolan 14, foi. I5v. 

14 British Library, MS Royal 
20.E.IX, fol. 4. 

15 From the collection of paintings 
by John White, British Museum, 
Dept of Prints and Drawings, 

Catalogue No. 46a. 
1 6 British Museum, Dept of 
Ethnography, No. 1949 Am, 22. 118. 
17-19 From Columbus's letterto Gabriel 
Sanchez, Basel, 1493. 

20 Part of the Cantino world map of 
1502 in the collection of the Biblioteca 
Estense, Modena. 

21 From a painting in the collection 
of the Lazaro Galdiano Museum, 

22 From a document in the archives 
of the City of Genoa, reproduced in 
facsimile in publicity material issued 
by the dty in 1990. 

In-text figures: p. 85; Benedetto Bordone, 
Isolario, 1528; pp. 101, 105, 109, 140, 167, 
1 68: Fernandez de viedo y Valdes, 
Historia General de las Indias, Salamanca, 
1 547J P- 95^ Girolamo Benzone, Historia 
del Monde Nuovo, Venice, 1563;?. 83: 
Martin Cortes, Breve compendia de la 
spheraydelartedenavegar, Seville, 1551; 
pp. 113, 1 78: Diego Garcia de Palacio, 
Instruction wuticapara el buen uso y 
regimientodelasnaos, Mexico City, 1587. 



Africa, exploration of 3 
Aguda, Punta 139 
ajes 141, 147, i?o 

*jt 173, 225 

dbricias 213 

Alcaqovas, Treaty of 28, 207 

Alfragan 29, 30, 210 

Alhambra 81 

Allandra 190 

almadias 96-9, 107-8 

Almalik 13, 14 

aloes 105, 114, 139 

Alonso, Garcia 53 

Alonso, Maestre 53 

Alto y Bajo, Cabo 145 

Amiga, see La Amiga 

ampolletas 59 

Andalo di Savignone 13 

Andalusia 40, 42, 101, 106 

Andrew of Florence n 

Andrew of Perugia, Bishop of 

Zaitun 12-13 
Angel, Cabo del 169 
Anthony of Parma n 
Antilia 17-18, 34, 36 
Arana, Diego de 51, 154, 160, 206 
Arcos, Pedro de 53, 55 
Arena, Islas de 107 
Argun, Khan n 
Arias, Juan 53,54,206 
Arraez.Juan 53,54,205 
Arraez, Pedro 53, 54, 205 
assegais 126 

Astrakhan 14, 16-18 

astrolabe 57, 62-3, 178 

astronomy 62-4, 170, 226 

Atlantis 17 

aim 212 

Augustine, St 40 

Azores 16, 27, 36, 177, 179, 182-6 

Babeque 116, 118-19, 122, 136, 143, 


Bachiller, Gonzalo 50 
Bachillera, ship 50 
Bafan in 
banners 93 
Barcelona 191, 205 
Basques 54 

Bastida, Rodrigo de 195 
Bayona 202 
beads 94, 98 
beans 115 

Becerro, Cabo del 164 
beehive 130 

Behaim, Martin 7-8, 16-17, 33, 208 
Behechio 201 

bells 94, 99, ISS. 22 3 
Belprado, headland 169 
Bermejo,Juan 197 
Bermiidez, Diego 52 
Bemal 53, 206 

birds, use in navigation 92; in West 
Indies 115, 120, 13 5; see parrots 
blancas 96, 99 
Bobadilla, Beatriz de 212 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Bohio 105, 113, 118, 122, 125, 136, 


bonnets 94, 98 
boobies 87-90, 174 
bows and arrows 156, 170-1, 173 
brass 155 
Brazil 17 
Brendan, St: Island of St Brendan 16- 

17, 3^ 
Bristol 26 

Buen Tiempo, Cabo del 169 
Bugasca 19 
Buscarelli n 

Cabrero, Juan de 39 

cacique 144, 1 52 passim 

Calabres, Anton 52, 54, 205 

Calvo,Juan 198 

Cambalec (Pekin) 12, 14-15, 32 

Cami no 

Campana, Cabo de 124-6 

Canaries 16, 43, 82-5, 212 

Caniba, Canima 33-4, 125, 137, 142, 

cannibalism 33-4, 122, 125, 132, 137, 

142, 170-1 
canoes 95, in, 118, 128-9, 130, 134, 


caona 170 
Caonabo 201 
CapeVerdes 16 
capituladones 42, 44 
captain, rank of 56-7 
caravel 30, 47-5L 54~5 
careening 114 
Caribata, Monte 145-6, 151 
Caribs 160, 170-1 
Caro, Cristobal 52, 56 
carrack 47-8, 120, 134 
Cascais 189 
cassava 114, 156 
Castaneda, Juan de 1 83 
Cathay 11-16, 30, 35, no 
Cavila 112 
cazabi 156 
cebadera 48 

Centurione, Lodovico 26-7 
ceotis 96 
Chachu 52 

chairs, Indian 114-15, 158 
Challenge, ship 55 

charts 62-3, 89 

Chios 24-5, 117 

Chocero, Alonso de 52, 206 

Christianity, in the orient 10-13, 16 

Christopher, St 5, 208 

Cibao 152, 155, 158, 222-3 

cinnamon 113, 115 

Cinqum, Cabo de 133-5 

Cipango 9, 34-5, 91, 105-7, 152, 155, 
164, 195 

Clavijo, Alonso 52, 54 

Codex Mendoza 207 

Colba 105 

Coloma, Juan de 42 

Columbus, Amiguetto 20 

Columbus, Antonio 20-1 

Columbus, Batholomew 8, 21, 37 

Columbus, Bianchinetta 20-1 

Columbus, Christopher: birth 22; 
ancestry 20-1; origins 19; appearance 
23; signature 5, 208; religious faith 4, 
5, 23; education 22-3; early career 20, 
22-8; reading 29, 31-4; marriage 27; 
mistress 39; children 27, 39; titles 42, 
82; will 39; Libro deprofecias 207 

Columbus, Diego 27, 37, 39, 194-5 

Columbus, Domenico 20-22 

Columbus, Fernando: birth 39; 
biographer of his father $ passim 

Columbus, Giacomo 20-1 

Columbus, Giovanni (Giannetto) 20 

Columbus, Giovanni Pellegrini 20-1 

Columbus, Matteo 20 

compass 62; declination of 86, 90, 212 

Conquistadors i 

copper 172-3 

Cordoba 38-40, 42, 139, 164, 181 

Coroay 158 

Correa, Pedro 35-6 

cotton 94-5, 98, 112, 114-15, H7, 150, 

crabs 120 

crews 49-56 

crickets no 

crossbow 131 

crosses 120-1, 129, 137, 145 

Cuadrado, Juan 53, 206 

Cuba 105-7, no; called Juana 132 

Cuba, Cabode 118 

Cuellar, Antonio de 52 



Cugureo 19 

Cuneo, Michele de 50 

d'Ailly, Pierre, Imago Mundi 31, 33 

Daman, Alfonso 189 

dead reckoning 64 

Dellepiane, Antonio 21 

Deza, Diego de 39 

dhows 55, 211 

di Negro, Paolo 25-6 

diaho 200 

Dias, Bartholomew 8, 188 

Diego, Maestre 52, 114 

dogs, Indian 102, 108, no 

dolphins 87, 176-7 

dorados 89-90, 176 

Dos Hermanos 145 

duhos 114-15, 158 

Dulmo, Fernao 36 

Edward I, King of England n 

El Dorado i 

el Rico, Jacomo 52 

Elefante, Cabo del 133-5 

Enamorado, Cabo del 169 

England 147 

Enriquez de Harana, Beatriz 39-40 

Escobedo, Rodrigo de 51, 94, 160 

Espanola, 136 passim 

Esteban, Herrando 199 

Estreito, Joao 36 

Estrella, Cabo de la 36 

Faro 191 

Fava no 

Fayal 178 

Ferdinand, King of Arag6n 2, 37-41, 

Fernandez, Garcia 53, 196, 200, 202, 

Fernandez Colmenero, Ant6n 195, 

200, 202 

Fernandez Colmenero, Diego 199, 202 
Fernandina 99, 103, 107 
Ferrando, Garcia 196 
fish 88-9, 91, 93, ioo, 135, 138-9, 

174, 176, 221 

fishing 108, no, 135, 142, 149 
Flechas, Golfo de las 173 
Flechas, Puerto de las 173 
Flores 36, 178-9 

flying fish 91 
Fonseca, Juan de 195 
Fontanarossa, Susanna 20-1 
food 6 1 

Frances, Cabo 169 
Franciscan order 37-8 
Franco, Gonzalo 52 
frigate birds 90, 174-5 
Fuma 158 
Funchal 27 
Justas 128, 130, 219 

Gallega (= Santa Maria) 50 

Gallego, Rodrigo 50, 52. 206 

Gal way 26 

Garcia, Bartolome 53 

Garcia, Francisco 50 

Garcia, Ruy 53, 182 

Garcia de Palacio, Diego 48, 54, 56-7 

Garcia Sarmiento, Cristobal 52, 199, 

Garcia Vallejo, Francisco 53, 196, 

198-200, 202, 205 
Garza, ship 50 
gavia 48 
gayeguillos 199 
geese 150 

Genoa 3, n, 13, 19-22, 24 
Genoese: in Mediterranean 24-5; in the 

orient 11-13 
Gerald of Prato n 
Girardi, Lorenzo 34 
Goes, Benedict 16 
gold 95 passim 
Gomera 35-6, 84-5 
Gomes, Fernao 28 
Gonzalez, Juan 1989 
Gonzalez de Clavijo, Ruy 15 
Gonzalez de Mendoza, Pero 39 
Gorda, ship 50 
Gould, Alice 51 
Gran Canaria 84 
Gracia, river 168 
Granada 108; conquest of 2, 39, 42, 

8 1-2 

grumete 54 

Guacanagari, King 159-61, 165 
Guadalquivir, river 40, 140, 167 
Guadalupe, Our Lady of 4, 180 
Guanahani 108, 121, 197, 199 
guanin 155, 227 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Guards, group of stars 62-4, 90, 213 

Guarionex 158 

Guerra, Cristobal 195 

Guinea 28, 108, no, 118, 127, 141, 

147, 1 60, 167, 190 
Guisay: see Quinsay 
Gutierrez, Pedro 52, 93, 154, 160 
gutrunari 200 

hacerpunto 64 

Haiti 200 

hammocks 101-2, 112 

harpoons 89, 108 

Henrique, Infante of Portugal 36 

Henry VII, King of England 37 

Hermoso, Cabo 103 

Hernandez, Garci 41 

Hierro 35-6, 91, 95. *79 

Hierro, Punta del 169 

Hojeda, Alonso de 195 

houses, Indian 102, 109, 126, 131 

Huelva 37, 41, 188 

Huelva, Andres de 53 

Iceland 26 

iguanas 104-5 

Imana 18 

Isabela 103, 121 

Isabella, Queen of Castile i, 3, 38-42, 

8 1-2 

Isidore of Seville, St 16 
Islam 2, 4, 39, 81 
Izquierdo de Lepe, Pedro 52, 54 

Jamaica 166 

James the Apostle, St 2, 207 

Japan 8, 30 (see also Cipango) 

Jerez, Juan de 52 

Jerez, Rodrigo de 52, 112 

Jerome of Catalonia 12 

Jesuits 15-16 

Jews, expulsion of 82 

Joao, King of Portugal 8, 36 

John of Cora 13 

John of Marignolli 12 

John of Montecorvino I i-i 3 

John of St Agatha n 

Jourdain de Severac 12 

Juan (grwnete) 52, 206 

Juana (= Cuba) 132 

Kaidu, ruler of Turkestan n 

Kanchau 14 

Khan: the Great Khan 8-11, 13, 33-4, 

81, 105, 108, iio-n, 125 
Kublai: see Khan 

La Amiga 153, 159 

la Cosa, Juan de 50, 51, 58, 195 

LaMina 28, 190 

la Plaza, Juan de 52, 205 

La Rabida, monastery 37-8, 41, 43 

Lagos 26 

Laguna, Cabo de la 104 

language i, 13, 107, 111-12, 150, 170, 

207-8, 212 
Lanzada, Punta 139 
Lanzarote 84 

las Casas, Bartolome de 4 passim 
Las Cuevas, monastery 204 
lateen rig 48-9 
lead line 57, 88 
Leal, Diego 52 
leguas 64-5 
Leme, Antonio 36 
Lepe, Diego de 195 
Lepe, Pedro de 52 
Lequeitio, Domingo de 52 
Lindo, Cabo 131-2 
Lisbon 26, 29, 188-9 
Litre de I'estat du grant Khan 13 
Livre des merveilles 9-10 
lombards 107, 143-4, 156, 160 
Lope 52 

Lorenzo, Diego 53 
Loretto, Virgin of 4, 1 80 
Luna, river 109 

Macorix 158 

Madeira 26-7, 178-9, 187 

Maguana 201 

Malabar 12 

Malagueta 28 

manatee i<58 

manegueta 160, 167,. 225 

Marchena, Antonio de 38 

Mares, river 109-11, 114, 128 

Marignolli, John of 12 

Martellus Germanus, Henricus 8, 29- 


Martin de la Gorda, Andres 50 
Martinez de Azoque, Juan 52, 205 



Martins, Fernao 34 

masks no, 149, 156 

master, rank of 56-7 

mastic 100, 114, n?, i3<5-7, 139, 173, 

216-17; trade in 24-6, 117 
Matinino 172-3 
Matthew of Arezzo n 
Maundevile, Sir John 8, 10, 209 
Mayonic 158 
Medel (or Mendes), Fernando 53-4, 

Medel (or Mendes), Francisco 53-4, 


Medina, Juan de 52, 205 
Medina, Pedro de 65 
Medina Sidonia, Duke of 38 
Medinaceli, Duke of 38, 43 
mermaids 28, 167-8 
mesana 48 
millas 64-5 
millet 100 
Minho, river 202 
missionaries, in orient 1 1-14 
Moguerjuande 52, 54, 197. 205-6 
Monge, Rodrigo 53 
Monte, Cabo del 131 
Monte Cristo 163-5 
Montecorvino, John of 11-13 
Moors: see Islam 
Morales, Alonso 53 

Nafe 179 
nao 47-8 

Navidad 56, 163, 166, 171 
Navigatio Sancti Brandani 1 6 
navigation 28-9, 57-8, 112 
Nemptai 32 
Nervi 19 

Nestorian Church n, 15 
niames 11415 
Nicholas, friar 13 
Nicholas of Pistoia 12 
Nicholas III, Pope 11 
Nicholas IV, Pope n 
Nina, caravel 44~5, 47, 49-5O, 53*5, 
58, 86, 92-3, 98, 102, 120, 132, 155, 


Nino, Francisco 53, 55 
Nino, Juan 45, 5O, 53, 55 
Nino, Peralonso 51, 55, 178-9, 195, 


nitayno 152, 161 

Norona, Martin de 189-90 

nozay 170 

Nuestra Senora, Mar de 119, 123, 128 

nutmegs 133 

nuts 1 20, 147 

OdoricofPordenone 12 

officers 56-8 

orient, European ideas on 8-10; 

travellers to 11-16 
Ormuz 12 
Oro, river 166 
Otrar 14 
Oxus, river 14 

Padre e Hijo, Cabo del 169 

pages 5HSi 

Palmas, Cabode no 

Palos 37, 41, 43, 82, 205 

Palos, Alonso de 53, 206 

panizo 215 

papagallos 199 

papahigo 48, 182 

Paraiso, Valle del 140 

parrots 94-5, 100, 104, 138, 148 

partridges 115 

payroll 2046 

pearls 109-10, 120 

Pegolotti, Francesco Balducci 13-1 5 

Pekin: see Cambalec 

pepper 113, 115, 160 

Perestrello, Bartolomeo 27 

Perestrello e Moniz, Felipa 27, 37 

Perez, Alvaro 53-4, 205 

Perez, Arias 44, 195-7, 201 

Perez, Diego 52 

Perez, Fray Juan 37, 39 

Pe"rez, Fray Rodrigo 161 

P6rez, Gil 53-4, 205 

Peru 4 

Peter of Florence 12 

Peter of Lucalongo 12 

petrels 88, 91, 93, 175-8 

Pico, Cabo del 124-5 

Pierna, Punta 139 

piloto 57-8, 63, 88 

Pinta, caravel 45, 47, 49-5, 52-7, 84, 

87, 89, 93, 100, 102, 122, 159, 162-3, 

165, 175, 180 
Pinto family 50 


The Voyage of Christopher Columbus 

Pinz6n family 43-5, 58, 193, 211 
Pinzon, Diego Martin 53-4 
Pinz6n, Francisco Martin 44, 52, 206 
Pinzon, Martin Alonso 44-5, 49, 50, 

52, 84, 87, 89, 9L 93, ioo, 113, 122, 

163, 165-7, 175, 180, 193-202, 205-6 
Pinzon, Vicente Yanez 44, 49, 54, 93, 

159, 1 66, 178-9, 193-200, 205-6 
Pius II, Historic Return Ubique 

Gestarum 31, 33 
Plata, Monte de 169 
pleitos de Colon 41, 43-4, 51, 193-203 
Pliny 31, 117 

Pole Star 62-4, 112, 122, 177 
Polo, Marco: The Travels of Marco 

Polo 8-1 1, 1 6, 31-4 
Pordenone, Odoric of 12 
Porto Santo 27-8, 36, 178-9 
Portuguese, explorations by 3, 7-8, 17, 

27-8, 35^5, 49, 92 
Potosi, barque 55 
pottery 150-1 
Preussen, ship 55 
Prieto, Diego 41, 196 
Principe, Puerto del 119-21 
Ptolemy 7, 40 
Puente de Pinos 42 
Puerto de Santa Maria 38, 181 
Puerto Santo 129 
purslane 108 

quadrant 57, 62-3, 112-13, 139 
Quinsay 14, 32, 34-5, 105, 112 
Quintero, Cristobal 45, 50, 534, 84 
Quintero de Algruta, Juan 52, 54, 198, 

Rabban Sauma 1 1 

Rama, Sancho de 53, 206 

Ramirez, Pero 197 

Rascon, Gomez 53, 84 

Reconquista 2, 4 

redonda 49 

Redondo, Cabo 169 

religion 3, 4, in, 116-17, 127-8, 131, 

H3, 157 

Rene, King of Anjou 24 
Restelo 189 
Reynal.Juan 52, 205 
rhubarb 159, 224-5 
rhumb lines 62 

rigging 46-9 

Rodrigo de Triana 53, 93 

Rodriguez, Sebastian 41 

Rodriguez Bennejo, Juan 53, 199 

Roillo 1 8 

Roldan, Bartolome 53, 58, 178-9, 199, 

205, 227 

Romero, Juan 53, 205 
Roxanna, ship 25 

Ruiz de Gama, Sancho 53, 179, 205 
Ruiz de la Pena, Juan 52, 205 

Sacanben 189 

Sacro, Puerto 164 

sails 48-9, 107 

Saint George, Bank of 20, 43 

Saint Vincent, Cape 169, 177, 187, 191 

Salamanca 40 

Salazar, Eugenic de 59-63 

Salcedo, Pedro de 52 

Saltes 2, 191 

Salve Regina 60, 93, in, 183 

Samarkand 15 

Samoet 100, 102-4 

San Antonio, monastery 190 

San Gimignano 7 

San Gregorio 178 

San Miguel 185 

San Nicolas 133-4 

San Salvador 97, 100, 109 

San Theramo, headland 174 

Sanchez, Mawfrejuan 52, 56, 161 

Sanchez de Montilla, Pedro 53, 205 

Sanchez de Segovia, Rodrigo 52, 93-4, 


sandglass 57, 139, 174-5 
Santa, Punta 151, 153 
Santa Catalina 124 
Santa Clara (= Nina) 50 
Santa Clara de Moguer 50, 181 
Santa Fe 2, 42 
Santa Maria, harbour 133 
Santa Maria, island 178-9, 183-7 
Santa Maria, ship 43, 47, 49-52, 54-7, 

102; wrecked 153-4, 160 
Santa Maria de la Cinta 188 
Santa Maria de la Concepci6n 97, 100 
Santangel, Luis de 39, 42-3 
Santo, Cabo 163 
Santo Domingo 204 
Santo Tomas 145-6 



Santona 182 

Sao Jorge da Mina 28 

Sarai 14 

Saraichik 14 

sash, Indian 149-50 

Satanazes 17-18 

Savona 19, 21-2 

Say a 18 

Seca, Punta 169 

Seneca 40 

Seven Cities, Island of the 17-18 

Seville 40, 92, 191 

ships 46-55 

Sierpe, Cabo de 163 

silver in, 124 

Singuy 32 

Sintra, Rock of 182, 188 

smoke signals 136, 171 

Sol, river 116 

Solis, Juan de 195 

Soria, Miguel de 54, 206 

Soria, Pedro de 53 

speed of ships 65 

Spice Islands 3, 30 

spices 103, 115, 133, 151, 160 

spinach 108 

spingard 156 

Spinola, Battista 25 

Spinola, GiofFredo 25 

statues, Indian no 

stores 6 1-2 

Tagus, river 124, 188-9 

Taj ado, Cabo 169 

Talavera, Fray Hernando de 39 

Tana 14 

Tanmar 18 

Tegero, Pedro 53, 206 

Tenerife 85, 146, 149 

terce 99, 207 

Terceira 36, 178 

terns 86 

Terreros, Pedro de 52 

Thule 26 

tides 121 

timekeeping 59, 207, 218 

Timur Beg, ruler of Samarkand 1 5 

tobacco 216-7 

toninas 212 

Torres, Bartolome de 52, 54 

Torres, Cabo de 145 

Torres, Luis de 52, 112 

Tortuga, Isla de la 133, 135, 139, 143 

Toscanelli, Paolo 34-5 

traverse board 64 

trade routes 3, 13-15 

trade winds 30, 66 

trees 134-5 

tree 93 

Triana, Fernando de 53, 206 

Triana, Rodrigo de 53, 93 

trinquete 48 

tropic birds 86-7, 90, 175 

tunny fish 174 

tuob 170 

turey 155 

turtledove 89 

turtles 167 

Ungrfa, Juan de 195-6, 199, 201 
Urgandi 14 
Urtubia, Martin de 52 

Valdo vinos, Manuel de 197, 200 

Valladolid 39 

Valle del Paraiso 189 

Velasco, Pedro de 36-7 

Venice 3 

Verde de Triana, Juan 53, 205 

Vezano,Juan 53-4, 205 

Vicente, Martin 35 

Villa, Pedro de 53, 181 

Villafranca, 190 

viraztn 212 

Vives, Bartolome* 52, 205 

Vizcaino, Domingo 52 

wages of crew 204-6 

watches 60, 174-5 

wax 129 

weapons, Indian 106, 126, 130, 142, 

156, 171* 173,227 
weed 86 passim 
westerlies 66 
whales 88, 100, 187 
wind roses 62, 83 
winds 65-6 

Yamaye 166 

Yanez Pinzon, Vicente; see Pinz6n 
Yevenes (or Yruenes), Andres de 52, 

Zaiton, Zaitun 34, 112 


(continued JTC^,: /?v:5i f <riap) 

marvelously inspiring story, Hd 

writes in introduction: **JVly version Is 
not Columbus* original, but then neither 
is Fernando's, nor the Las Casas manu- 
script, nor any of the myriad of transla- 
tions which have followed the Las Casas 
text. "What follows is, I hope, a version 
corresponding as closely in content to the 
original as it is possible to produce while 
that original remains lost.** 

JOHN CUMMIMS is Reader in Spanish at the 
University of Aberdeen, and an authority 
on medieval and Renaissance Spain. He is 
the author of The Hound and the Hawk: 
The Art of Medieval Hunting (SMP, 19S8). 
He lives in Scotland. 



Columbus Qm Journal of Discovery 

Newly Restored and Translated, fey